Robson faces up to his first crisis

IAN POTTS

Middlesbrough 2 Arsenal 3

England expects what all of Teesside fears, judging by the latest pronouncements on the identity of Terry Venables' successor. And Bryan Robson's denial of interest has hardly been unequivocal.

"I'm fed up with talking about England," he said, after Saturday's setback at the Riverside Stadium, before deciding it was less painful to discuss his own position than Middlesbrough's fourth successive Premier League defeat.

"Terry's decision took me by surprise, but rather than try to find a new man it would be better to try to talk him round. I'm quite happy here at Middlesbrough, but I'll be speaking to Terry and the FA to find out the position."

The latest theory sees Robson taking control, but with either Venables or Howard Wilkinson on hand to offer advice. It is something he could do with right now, as he faces the first hint of a crisis in his 18 months as a manager.

Shorn of four key defenders and his second-top scorer, and unable to play himself because of a recurring sciatica problem, Robson lost two more first-teamers - Jamie Pollock carried off, Alan Moore sent off - and all three points to a side finally emerging from their winter hibernation.

Juninho's dazzling runs from deep provided most of the excitement, but too often he lacked support, and his colleagues gave away possession with infuriating regularity. Arsenal, in control after Paul Merson advanced on to John Jensen's through-ball and coolly volleyed them into an early lead, briefly lost the script either side of half-time.

While Tony Adams appealed, with some justification, for offside against Juninho, the Brazilian seized on Jan-Age Fjortoft's backheel to crash home his second Premiership goal, and then sent in Philip Stamp shortly after the resumption.

Two defensive lapses in three minutes put the Gunners back in front, however, with David Platt mopping up after Ian Wright's header had come back off the post, and Glenn Helder finally breaking his duck after Nigel Pearson's desperate clearance had set up a chance even the Dutchman could not miss.

The game ended acrimoniously, with the substitute Moore planting an elbow on the chin of Arsenal full-back Gavin McGowan as the pair chased a routine ball. Whereas the Dixon-Ginola spat called for a second opinion, referee Graham Poll ordered an instant adjudication.

"If you raise your hands or arms you will be ejected from the field," quoted Bruce Rioch, adding, a little peevishly, "what does surprise me is that managers get the blame for the incident. The elbow has been used more often in the last three or four years than in the period I played." Terry McDermott may disagree, but that is another story.

Goals: Merson (7) 0-1; Juninho (38) 1-1; Stamp (56) 2-1; Platt (59) 2-2; Helder (62) 3-2.

Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Walsh; Liddle, Pearson, Vickers, Whelan, Blackmore; Stamp, Juninho, Pollock (Moore, 41); Barmby, Fjortoft. Substitutes not used: Moreno, Wilkinson.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Keown, McGowan; Merson, Platt, Jensen, Helder; Bergkamp, Wright. Substitutes not used: Linighan, Dickov, Clarke.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Sending-off: Middlesbrough: Moore.

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Barmby. Arsenal: Wright.

Man of the match: Juninho.

Attendance: 29,359.

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