Hignett and Fjortoft put paid to Palace's hopes

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The Independent Online

Middlesbrough 2 Crystal Palace 0

Juninho might have been missing, away in Buenos Aires facing Argentina, but in the absence of their much-heralded new young idol, the old man, in the shape of Bryan Robson, returned last night to help Middlesbrough ease their way into the fourth round of the Coca-Cola Cup in which they will face Birmingham at home.

The manager lasted the entire match, his first of the season, and looked none the worse for it even at the ripe age of 38, some 21 years older than his youngest opponent, Crystal Palace's Leon McKenzie.

Typical of Robson's smooth array of first-time passes was the one to Alan Moore in the eighth minute which put Middlesbrough on their way. Moore's low cross was intended for Jan Age Fjortoft but the ball ran behind the Norwegian only to be thumped in from the edge of the area by Craig Hignett.

Unfortunately the goal was missed by thousands of Middlesbrough's season ticket holders, kicking their heels in the rain outside the Cellnet Riverside Stadium amid confusion which brought an apology from a loudspeaker announcer promising that it would not happen again.

What very nearly did happen again was another Middlesbrough goal. Nigel Martyn, relieved to tip Jamie Pollock's drive round an upright, then saw Fjortoft fail with two stabs from Jaime Moreno's corner that had been played back in by Pollock.

Not content with those let-offs, the Palace goalkeeper then contributed to another for Richard Shaw by slicing a poor clearance straight at Hignett. For bringing down Middlesbrough's leading scorer, Shaw was lucky to see only the yellow card as did three of his team-mates, David Hopkin, Chris Coleman and Marc Edworthy for lesser offences.

Palace had attempted to cock a snook at their hosts and the temporarily departed Juninho by digging up their old ``Brazilian'' away kit. But apart from a brief rally just before the interval, the boys in blue and yellow looked pale imitations of the real thing.

Hopes of a revival demanded by Ray Lewington and Peter Nicholas, Palace's joint coaches, were raised after McKenzie had wasted an opening from Hopkin's through pass. Andy Roberts proceeded to bring a flying save from Gary Walsh, who then watched transfixed as another piledriver from Darren Pitcher rocketed past him to bounce off the bar.

Middlesbrough reasserted themselves after the interval, raising the tempo and cashing in when Fjortoft rounded off a tantalising dribble past Shaw and Coleman along the byline by hammering the ball beyond Martyn in the 75th minute.

Lewington said afterwards that Coventry City were trying to buy the Palace defender, Shaw. Lewington added that Steve Coppell, Palace's technical director, was conducting the negotiations over Shaw, who is believed to be valued at pounds 1.5m.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Walsh; Liddle, Pearson, Vickers, Morris; Moreno, Pollock, Robson, Moore; Fjortoft, Hignett (Blackmore, 29). Substitutes not used:O'Halloran, Freestone.

Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Martyn; Shaw (Sparrow, 83), Roberts, Coleman; Edworthy, Hopkin, Houghton (Matthew, 78), Pitcher, Gordon (Vincent, 50); Dyer, McKenzie.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).