Middlesbrough rocked by three-point penalty

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The Independent Online
The day began badly for Bryan Robson and went downhill. First, his expensive Italian striker, Fabrizio Ravanelli, declared that Middlesbrough were doomed to relegation and then the Football Association left the Teessiders further adrift at the bottom of the Premiership by deducting three points for their no-show at Blackburn Rovers.

Middlesbrough were also fined pounds 50,000, ordered to pay the costs of the FA Premier League commission and may have to pay compensation to Blackburn, who were left high and dry when Boro illegally cancelled the game on 21 December with 24 hours' notice. In addition, they still have to play the game at Ewood Park.

Robson, the club's manager, left the five-hour hearing at the FA's London headquarters grim-faced and making no comment after the decision which leaves his multi-million, multi-national team four points adrift of Southampton.

His demeanour before the hearing cannot have been much better, with Ravanelli having expressed his disgust with the way things are going at Boro, who have won only one of their their last 16 League matches.

"I reckon we will be relegated, I'm almost certain of it," the striker, who cost pounds 7.5m from Juventus in the summer, told an Italian newspaper.

Ravanelli also mocked Robson's decision to give the players a break after Christmas even though they had slumped to the foot of the table.

"I can't even get angry any more. We have few chances of achieving safety and they give us three days off from training. I went to the training ground but everything was locked up. The situation, I am very sorry to say, is truly tragic."

His pessimism was well founded, with Robson and the Middlesbrough chief executive, Keith Lamb, failing to convince the disciplinary hearing that 23 sick, injured and suspended players left them with no option but to pull out of the Blackburn game. Medical evidence supported their claim that Boro would have been unable to do themselves justice in a vital relegation match.

The Premier League, like Boro who have 14 days to appeal, refused to comment after the hearing beyond a statement detailing the sanctions.

The Blackburn manager, Tony Parkes, having described Boro's action as akin "to a Sunday League side", thought Rovers had a good chance of being awarded the points.

"That hasn't happened and this is the second-best decision for us," he said. "But there are still things that we need to know. For instance, will Middlesbrough be allowed to field players they have signed in the meantime? It is very hard to recreate the original circumstances or situation."

The Blackburn chairman, Robert Coar, said: "We argued strongly that Middlesbrough should have forfeited the game on the basis that they must have believed that Blackburn Rovers would have won. The commission warned that in future forfeiting a game might be an appropriate penalty."

The one bright spot in Robson's day was the arrival of the defender, Gianluca Festa, ready to complete his pounds 2.7m move from Internazionale. However, quite what Ravanelli had to say by way of greeting to his compatriot must have filled Robson with dread.

Southampton shares, page 16

Citko for Blackburn, page 23

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