Jingle bells toll for Juninho

Middlesbrough 4 Fjortoft 22, Cox 23, Morris 29, Hendrie 85 West Ham United 2 Cottee 81, Dicks 89 Attendance: 28,640
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The Independent Online
THE supporters of Middlesbrough could be forgiven a feeling that when Santa comes down the chimney tomorrow he could be wearing green and yellow and speaking Portuguese rather than Lapp. The Brazilian Juninho's immense gifts to this game and to Boro's victory would require a thank you letter of War and Peace proportions. He inspired a win that might have been overwhelming if Middlesbrough's usually obdurate defence had not shown a little late charity.

Before 20 seconds were up, he had started a move that ended with Ludek Miklosko savingfrom Jan Aage Fjortoft. In the fifth minute, his vicious in- swinging corner was cleared off the line after Neil Cox had headed it on, and in the seventh he played a beautiful reverse pass to John Hendrie and Fjortoft hit a post.

This opening burst was only a warm-up for a devastating six-minute spell midway through the half. Juninho's impossible pass through a seemingly impenetrable defence found Fjortoft for the first goal in the 22nd minute. Fifty seconds later, the Brazilian received a throw from his keeper Gary Walsh. He toe-ended it over Tim Breacker's head and dashed 50 yards to the penalty area only to see his shot blocked. It fell to Cox to hammer home.

And just five minutes later, Juninho's persistence played Cox in and his cross dropped on to the head of the full-back Chris Morris. But there's more to Juninho than just running and passing. He clattered Julian Dicks so successfully that the hard man furiously appealed to the referee - from the floor.

If West Ham were finished, Juninho wasn't. He opened the second half with a burst of pace that might have brought a penalty; a 70-yard dash that won a corner; a daring chip from 30 yards; and a bewildering flick between two defenders. "He could have got himself a hat-trick," said the assistant-manager Viv Anderson. "He's got to work on his finishing." With Boro resting on their laurels, Tony Cottee scrambled a reply. Then in the 88th minute Dicks lashed a 35-yarder through the keeper's cold hands.

"Some of our defending was abysmal," said Harry Redknapp. "Without Alvin Martin it was like the blind leading the blind. But Juninho was outstanding. A world-class player."