Derby are moving to a new stadium next season after 102 years on the site, but on a day for history, with the home side parading three of their 1946 trophy-winning team before the match, Boro made some of their own. Goals by Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli, his 12th in the cups, take the club to their first FA Cup semi-final after eight defeats at the last-eight stage.
Middlesbrough are already close to a Wembley appearance in the Coca-Cola competition, in which they host Stockport County on Wednesday, already 2-0 up. How they must wish they can translate such resolve, as they showed yesterday in the fiercest of contests, into Premiership points in their quest to avoid relegation. George Carman QC can at least be expected to provide some when they take on the FA soon over their three-point deduction.
Why the disparity in five away wins in the cups and only one in the league? The Boro manager, Bryan Robson, said that mentally the team steeled themselves more for the sudden-death and did not concede early goals. He also pointed out that Derby were the first Premiership club they had been sent to in the cup competitions.
Despite being without the injured Emerson, physically Middlesbrough more than matched a Derby team harried out of their passing game. Derby resorted to the high and hopeful, but that foundered on the head of the solid Nigel Pearson in a game with an undercurrent of spite which was well controlled by the referee, Graham Poll.
Then came the touches of class to confirm the difference. As the Derby manager, Jim Smith, said: "It was never going to be pleasant with it being a quarter-final. It needed somebody with a bit of quality, and they had it." His team had missed, he lamented, their suspended 10-goal leading scorer Dean Sturridge.
There was poignancy to the day personally for the persevering Derby goalkeeper Martin Taylor, who was back in the first team for the first time in more than two years after breaking his leg in two places. He replaced Russell Hoult, who had conceded six goals at Middlesbrough in the League last Wednesday. He quickly made two good saves as Middlesbrough began with the more composure. First he turned aside Mikkel Beck's low shot then, after Juninho had picked a way through the defence, advanced to beat out a shot by Ravanelli.
When the Italian made a less wholesome contribution minutes later, being booked for a late tackle as Chris Powell cleared, the game flared, with Derby swift with their retribution. Both Lee Carsley and Sean Flynn were shown yellow cards after reckless tackles. Thankfully, particularly in Derby's case, sense prevailed. Gradually the home side assembled some neat moves that saw them close to taking the lead. Soon Paul Trollope had driven a 25-yard shot just over and Aljosa Asanovic, in what was to prove a rare moment of deceptive flattery, forced Ben Roberts into a scrambling save from a free-kick five yards further out.
Thankfully for the game, too, Derby's attacking flurry had Middlesbrough minds concentrated on the play rather than players, though the ill-feeling persisted with Pearson angered by a challenge from Asanovic, whose elegant if sometimes slothful game is marred by a tendency to jump with careless elbows. Warning for Derby came with a quick and incisive move that saw Beck find Craig Hignett. His pass in from the left was just behind Juninho and the Brazilian's shot, after adjusting his feet nimbly, was comfortably saved by Taylor. Within minutes, however, the pair had perfected the routine. Hignett drew out Derby's central defence with a run infield from the left and between them nipped Juninho to clip the ball over Taylor and into the net.
Derby readjusted at the interval, with Gary Rowett replacing Flynn, but after initial promise, when Asanovic lifted a free-kick just over and Ashley Ward was thwarted by Gianluca Festa, they looked resigned to their exit. Taylor kept them in the game by saving from Hignett but he was powerless as Ravanelli drilled home a cross-shot after Juninho's run and reverse pass had split the back four. The history - or should that be geography - men had turned Derby's celebration day into a wake.
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