Juninho frozen out as Dons dig in

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon 0

Middlesbrough 0


IF THERE was anyone doing a Samba down Thornton Heath High Street after this match it could only have been to keep out the cold. A goalless draw, which was almost as bleak as its scoreline suggested, at least won Wimbledon their first Premiership point since 9 September, ending a run of seven successive defeats.

Middlesbrough will probably feel that they should have taken more from the game given the sheer volume that their fluid, Juninho-inspired football generated, particularly in the first-half. But for all the Brazilian's neat touches the nearest Boro came to a goal was when Jan Fjortoft's bobbling shot hit a post after six minutes. A goal then might have opened the game up, but the miss proved an appropriate omen as chances were few and far between thereafter.

Instead, as was appropriate on the first anniversary of the lottery, the crowd concentrated on watching to see how often the numbers four and 25 came together in a pre-Christmas pantomime entitled "Beauty and the Beast". But unfortunately for them Vinnie Jones and Juninho were largely in different sections of the play - Jones in central midfield while Juninho constructed most of his work by cutting in from the flanks, finding the gaps behind Wimbledon's midfield.

On the few occasions when they did meet, there was no need to cover the children's eyes. Indeed the biggest home cheer of the day came when Jones neatly dispossessed the little Brazilian in full flight. A second cameo saw Jones launch into a trademark tackle only for Juninho to stand unflinching and win the throw-in. The contact ended, improbably, late in the second half with Jones giving Juninho a lecture on sportsmanship after he had attempted to win a free-kick with a dive.

But there was no doubting the Juninho effect, not just on the swollen crowd and on Middlesbrough's play, but even on Jones himself. He was provoked only into raising his game yesterday and produced the best shot of the match with an instant volley from 25 yards which flew just wide of the Boro goal.

Juninho's touches, as part of Boro's overall plan of sweeping movements, always looked to have the potential to create goals but Andy Thorn did a thorough policing job at the back for Wimbledon.

In fact Middlesbrough's most potent player was Jamie Pollock, who rampaged through the Dons' midfield like a South African flanker. He and Philip Stamp produced what few shots Boro could muster but they were mostly from a range that left Paul Heald untroubled and freezing in the home goal.

After the game, Boro manager Bryan Robson conceded that Juninho "had his quietest game for us so far, but the weather's changed suddenly for him".

Despite the chill the Brazilian wore no gloves though no doubt some whizz- kid in marketing will have them on sale soon, in small size only.