Juninho up and running

Middlesbrough 4 (Barmby 33, 55, Stamp 54, Juninho 75) Manchester City 1 (Kinkladze 16) Attendance: 29,469
ALAN BALL had predicted that the difference in influential ability between Middlesbrough's Brazilian Juninho and his own Georgian Georgi Kinkladze would be the width of a cigarette paper. Wrong. Kinkladze won that personal contest by a mile but still finished on a City side baffled to be so improved and lose by so much.

Ball praised Kinkladze ("The best player on the park") but made the valid point that City's adventurous football created 10 chances. Boro had hardly more than four and scored from each. "We paid for our naivety - for keeping on bombing forward."

Naive, perhaps, but it made for a fine match. If City quickly recover from this strange defeat and eventually finish a bit higher than their early-season languishing suggested, they will surely look to the emergence of Kinkladze as the player who gave them direction. He reminds them of the virtues of understanding space and time. Yesterday, though, lacking Garry Flitcroft, who would have been Juninho's marker, and Uwe Rosler, who was taken ill overnight, City showed why their confidence had recently come good. Kinkladze's first touch and close control set him apart. Juninho roamed from wing to wing but was a feather by comparison.

Kinkladze emphasised his unusual foresight and imagination when, after 15 minutes, he drew Phil Stamp towards him, nipped passed, treated Derek Whyte with similar contempt and moved into the penalty area before transferring the ball onto his left foot and placing a perfect low shot inside the post. Juninho answered back with neat little runs but City closed in on him firmly and with effect - until the 32nd minute.

Several tough tackles had brought Juninho to the ground and when he hit a free-kick against the City wall it rebounded to Steve Vickers whose pass forward was deflected, allowing Nick Barmby to beat the on- rushing Eike Immel and slip in the equaliser.

The question was whether the goal would be sufficient to allow Boro to benefit from Juninho's occasional breathtaking contributions. But the breath seemed to remain with Kinkladze, himself no giant, but always prepared to ride the buffeting tackles. For all of that, the game was to have an extraordinary transformation.

After 55 minutes Stamp, who had never scored for Boro, made an optimistic run of some 30 yards. Along the way everyone assumed that he would pass but he went on to slot in a well- deserved goal. Within a minute, Barmby got in the right place at the right time. Jan Age Fjortoftmoved wide to the left and neatly found Barmby at the far post and his accurate header was all that was needed.

Not long ago, City would have buckled, but they faced the crisis spiritedly, though carelessly, and found Gary Walsh almost invincible. But their promise turned into what, on the cigarette paper, will appear something of a Boro burn-up. Juninho eventually reaped reward when another run by Stamp ended with Immel blocking his shot. The goalkeeper failed to hold and Juninho needed only a fraction of his skill to knock in the rebound.