Middlesbrough need to break bad habit - Sport - The Independent

Middlesbrough need to break bad habit

You could almost feel sorry for Middlesbrough that no one feels sorry for them. A Premiership club who buy big (pounds 26m) cannot expect much sympathy, but nothing is going right for them. Even the identity of their opponents is conspiring against them.

In last week's Coca-Cola Cup final, Leicester were portrayed as underdogs, an identity that did not sit entirely comfortably as they are above Boro in the Premiership table, but for tonight's FA Cup semi-final replay at Hillsborough there is no getting away from the fact: most of the nation is wishing for their demise. Britain is backing Second Division Chesterfield.

"The entire country seems to have taken us to their hearts," John Duncan, the Chesterfield manager, said. "We played at Brentford last week and we got cheered onto the pitch and off the pitch and during the match.

"It was fantastic that they felt associated with our performance and that neutral people were enthralled by us."

Which is hard on Middlesbrough, as their season of promise is collapsing round their ears. Six days ago, Bryan Robson's team were close enough to touch two cups and survival in the Premiership. Now, the Coca-Cola Cup is being toasted in Leicester, and on Saturday their fears of relegation deepened as Sunderland secured a first win on Teesside in 35 years. The identity of the only scorer was almost too cruel - Darren Williams, a former Boro trainee.

The problems do not end there by the Riverside. Alan Moore, the Republic of Ireland winger, is out of tonight's replay with a twisted ankle, sustained in a first-half challenge with Sunderland's Allan Johnston, while there are further doubts over the fitness of Gianluca Festa, Curtis Fleming and the goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer.

Add the muscle-constricting tension of being the victims of the mother of all shocks should Chesterfield prevail, and Boro's state can be properly quantified. Under normal circumstances, Juninho, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Co would expect to deal with a Second Division side comfortably, but no one could describe what is happening on Teesside as normal.

Certainly not Robson, who hopes the prizes will lift his team rather than fear suppress it. "We have a really important run-in with a lot to play for," he said. "The lads will pick themselves up and there is the added bonus that we can still get to another Wembley cup final. At least Chesterfield will be going into the game with the same preparation as us. Sunderland had a six-day rest before [playing us]and look what we went through.

"We have to get into the winning habit quickly. If you are in winning mode, players enjoy their football, and we have got to get back into the winning mode. We are getting the chances but we are not putting them away at the moment, so we are always going to put ourselves under pressure because of that."

Their captain, Nigel Pearson, believes a desire to prove their critics wrong could help Boro out of their present difficulties. "There is still time for us to get it right, then we will be able to stick our fingers up at people who have had a go at us," he said.

Yet Middlesbrough would be ill-advised to assume that Chesterfield will be any easier to overcome at the second time of asking. Duncan has rested nine of the players who started the initial match at Old Trafford 10 days ago and remains confident that his team can become the first from outside the top two divisions to reach the final.

"I think it's a reasonable assumption that underdogs only get one crack at it and a lot of people think our chance has gone now," he said. "But we're aiming not to be like the rest. We've done a lot of things over the last few years that a lot of people didn't think possible - not just the cup run."

Duncan will give a fitness test to his goalkeeper, Billy Mercer, who came off at half-time against Millwall on Saturday with a thigh injury and was unable to train yesterday. Paul Holland, a midfielder, is also an injury worry but Sean Dyche, who missed Saturday's match with a heavy cold, is expected to be fit.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week