Since no expense has been spared on either the team or their stadium, it seems reasonable to assume that the specifications for the Riverside included a trophy cabinet. It will be 12 months at least before it receives its first piece of silverware, however, following Middlesbrough's limp departure from the FA Cup last night. Neither side brought any real passion or intent to last night's fourth-round replay, and if Huddersfield had a scout in the stands, he will have been rubbing his hands not just because of the cold, but also in glee.
Until Dean Holdsworth broke a deadlock which had by then endured for 165 minutes, the local electricity board seemed likely to be the only winner, and you felt that the two sides could have taken penalties until midnight without finding the target. In the end, Holdsworth was presented with a chance he simply could not miss (and so, for that matter, was Barmby, 90 seconds from time, but in his case, he did).
Wimbledon have long endured a reputation for unimaginative up-and-unders, but Middlesbrough too are developing a Route One approach. In their case, it runs directly through the slight figure of Juninho, who in the first half at least was 5ft 5in of vision on an otherwise blinkered evening.
The Brazilian set off on several captivating runs, most notably after half an hour when he left a perplexed Alan Reeves flat on his back just outside the box before releasing to Chris Morris on his left. His firm shot was turned around the post by the excellent Neil Sullivan, who also palmed away Nick Barmby's shot on the turn - the result of another pass from Juninho - five minutes later.
A header by Holdsworth, a couple of shots from distance by Mick Harford and a booking for Robbie Earle were the sum total of the home side's efforts before the break. Within a minute of the restart, though, Holdsworth's bouncing header forced Gary Walsh to palm over.
As the match dragged on, even the runs of Juninho and Barmby began to dry up, and a dead-ball situation seemed the only way out of the impasse. After 57 minutes, Harford fouled Juninho 25 yards out, and Steve Vickers' deflected shot brought another top-class save from Sullivan, high to his left.
The fresh legs of Jason Euell arrived on 69 minutes, and it was his swift break from defence which finally made the difference. After a determined run, his neat pass found Gayle, whose cross-cum-shot reached Holdsworth, two yards out in front of an empty net.
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Kimble, Reeves, Perry; Leonhardsen, Earle, Ekoku (Euell, 69) Harford; Holdsworth, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Clarke, Pearce.
Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Walsh; Vickers, Pearson, Whelan; Cox (Hignett, 88), Morris, Pollock, Juninho, O'Halloran; Barmby, Wilkinson. Substitutes not used: Fjortoft, Moore.
Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).Reuse content