Limpar strips away Boro's flimsy facade

Everton 4 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Online

Everton 4 Middlesbrough 0

In a Christmas game of cloak and dagger, the characters wore perfect disguises. Everton were masquerading as strugglers while Middlesbrough swanked into Goodison looking every inch like a team heading for the European places. By the end both facades had been stripped away.

Most obviously that of Middlesbrough's defence whose granite-like image was wholly belied once Derek Whyte had retired with an injury. Instead of the Scrooge-like parsimony we expected, they handed out presents like Santa's helpers.

Graham Stuart (twice), Craig Short and Andrei Kanchelskis helped themselves to the gifts although there were numerous opportunities for others to grab some more. Indeed the principal problem for the Everton manager, Joe Royle, will be how to fit Duncan Ferguson into the side once he recovers from flu.

"It was hard to pick out a man of the match because they all did so well," Royle said, "but I thought Anders Limpar showed that no player in Britain has as much talent as him. He doesn't always display it, but he did today.

"We haven't been that successful against teams who are above us this season apart from Liverpool so it's nice to beat one of the top teams. We passed the ball well and at times produced some very attractive football."

For a top team Middlesbrough hid it well. No reference to them is complete without mention of Juninho and his performance summed up that of this team-mates. The Brazilian wore gloves as a protection from the icy air and like a similarly-attired burglar he left little evidence he had been here. After 73 minutes he was substituted.

His one contribution was also Middlesbrough's only threat on goal, a 26th-minute free-kick that Everton's defence stood back and admired. Neil Cox charged in to head from point-blank range but when Neville Southall somehow punched the ball away, the visiting attack might as well have gone back to Teesside.

The game was probably won in the backroom as much on the pitch. Faced by five defenders, Royle decided to put his strength in midfield and as consequence the emphasis of the play was always in the direction of the Boro goal.

So much so that Short, one of only three Everton defenders, was able to gallop forward after 10 minutes and surprise the visitors by his appearance in the opposing penalty box. Limpar crossed and Short headed emphatically past Gary Walsh from 12 yards.

That hardly endorsed Boro's defensive credentials but they were blown apart a minute from half-time when they made a huge mess of clearing Limpar's corner. Jamie Pollock provided the final mistake, somehow contriving to balloon the ball backwards where Joe Parkinson headed into the six-yard box for Stuart to strike.

Walsh had been blameless but the incompetence around him was likely to be catching and he succumbed to the malaise after 59 minutes. Short headed forward, Curtis Fleming dithered and Kanchelskis swept past him. When the cross came in Walsh flapped at it, merely directing it to Stuart, who side-footed into an empty net.

All that was required now for the dozens of boys wearing Kanchelskis across their new blue shirts was a goal from him and he provided it after 67 minutes. Horne played the ball into space and the winger raced on to it before side-footing past Walsh.

"We came to earth with a bump," Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager said. The lads didn't put in the work today and they were punished. It's a good kick up the backside for them."

Goals: Short (10) 1-0; Stuart (44) 2-0, Stuart (59) 3-0; Kanchelskis (67) 4-0.

Everton (3-5-2): Southall: Short, Watson, Unsworth; Kanchelskis, Horne, Parkinson, Ebbrell, Limpar; Stuart, Rideout. Substitutes not used: Hinchcliffe, Amokachi, Kearton (gk).

Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Walsh; Cox, Pearson, Vickers, Whyte (Morris, 16; Moore, 62), Fleming; Juninho (Moreno, 74), Liddle, Pollock; Hendrie, Fjortoft.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Everton: Limpar, Horne, Short. Middlesbrough: Morris, Pollock, Cox, Fleming.

Man of the match: Limpar Attendance: 40,091