Although Rush's departure provided the only spark to an otherwise meaningless match, the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, refused to bow to such emotional pressures and kept the Welshman on the bench until the 59th minute. To keep Rush imprisoned any longer would have been unjustifiable cruelty.
During the first half, Liverpool dominated the midfield before repeatedly faltering in sight of goal. Stan Collymore, Rob Jones, Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler all fell foul to a curious bout of soft finishing.
The second half began messily when Steve McManaman's flick from the left connected with the head of Neil Ruddock, who accidentally caused Middlesbrough's influential skipper, Nigel Pearson, to crash his head against the post.
The game came to life in the 57th minute when Redknapp, showing signs of regaining form, crashed a 25-yard shot against the bar. This, however, proved to be a mere precursor to the day's carnival atmosphere, which resumed in earnest two minutes later with the arrival of Rush.
If a Liverpool fan had been allowed to write the script, Rush would have bagged a quick hat-trick. As it turned out, a barrage of chances skimmed from and past his over-eager feet and it was Collymore who, in the 69th minute, broke the deadlock.
After the game, Rush was reduced to tears as Anfield, including the Middlesbrough section, provided a rousing You'll Never Walk Alone. A rehearsal, the Kop hoped, for an even louder version destined to take place at Wembley on 11 May.
Goal: Collymore (70).
Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Ruddock, Scales, Babb; Redknapp, Thomas (Kennedy, 68), Barnes, McManaman, Jones; Fowler (Rush, 59), Collymore. Substitute not used: Warner (gk).
Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Miller; Cox, Vickers, Pearson, Whyte; Pollock, Stamp, Juninho, Barmby, Branco; Campbell (Fjortoft, 68). Substitutes not used: Whelan, Hignett.
Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).
Bookings: Liverpool: Ruddock, Fowler.
Man of the match: Redknapp.
Attendance: 40,782.Reuse content