Phil Stamp, who will be 20 tomorrow, first appeared during Lennie Lawrence's sojourn as manager but is only now establishing himself alongside Boro's more exotic talents. On a day when the boys from Brazil and Georgia, Juninho and Georgiou Kinkladze, turned heads with skills from a different planet, let alone another country, Stamp did most to turn the game into a flattering 4-1 home victory.
As well as putting them ahead with his first senior goal, Stamp also bludgeoned the drive which Eike Immel spilled to enable Juninho to break his own striking duck since intoxicating Teesside eight games ago. "People keep coming to watch Juninho, but it was Stamp who did the business," Bryan Robson said of the genuinely local hero. "He's quick and powerful, he can run all day and he's a good dribbler."
With so many attributes, it was almost a surprise to discover that Stamp did not figure in the poll to find Boro's greatest all-time player. The fans have, after all, seen more of him than of Juninho, who squeezed ahead of Brian Clough in third spot with 9.7 per cent, or seventh-placed Nick Barmby, whose standing might have been higher had the ballot been held after Saturday's two-goal flourish.
The winner, with one in four of the votes, was Wilf Mannion, which is rather like The Beatles being No1 again, since he last played professionally in 1962. A similar exercise among City fans would doubtless place the likes of Colin Bell and Bert Trautmann on a pedestal, though both might be looking over their shoulders at the outrageously gifted Kinkladze.
Alan Ball had predicted there would be no more than a cigarette paper between Kinkladze and Juninho. In the event it was more like a Peter Swales cigar: the pounds 2m capture from Tbilisi exerted more influence on the slick raiding of an under-strength City than the pounds 4.5m man from Sao Paulo managed for Boro even when they were three ahead.
Both have a dancer's balance and supple feet, but the variety and precision of the former's passing gave him the edge. Brazil's Player of the Year is capable of breathtaking style at great speed, but is still performing in fits and starts.
Ball, asked how the vertically challenged pair compared, asserted that his playmaker had been "head and shoulders above anyone else". Kinkladze had merely started where he left off at Leeds, provoking an exasperated cry of "he's all left foot" from one seat-dweller. Like Puskas and Maradona, one was tempted to respond.
When Kinkladze opened the scoring with a wonderful individual effort, City appeared likely to make it 16 points out of 18. Pegged back by Barmby's opportunism, they conceded two goals in 60 seconds early in the second half with defending that the watching TV felon-finder John Stalker might have deemed criminal.
Robson was "delighted" and Barmby insisted the win was "thoroughly deserved". Ball had obviously been watching a different match, yet for once seeing was believing the City manager. "We made 10 great chances and scored one, whereas they scored from virtually all theirs," he said, blaming "a bit of madness and naivety".
"I told them at half-time that we were the better side by a mile and to keep going at them. Unfortunately they took me too literally. We had young lads bombing forward, leaving great holes for Barmby and Juninho to drop into. But even then, their keeper made some fantastic stops."
Gary Walsh, formerly of Manchester United's bench and treatment table, was the other ugly duckling to turn into a Riverside swan.
The best of several fine saves thwarted Niall Quinn - who should be renamed Quininho in view of his new-found array of flicks - and maintained Boro's record of only once conceding more than a single goal this season.
Goals: Kinkladze (16) 0-1; Barmby (33) 1-1; Stamp (54) 2-1; Barmby (55) 3-1; Juninho (75) 4-1.
Middlesbrough (5-2-2-1): Walsh; Cox, Pearson, Vickers, Whyte, Liddle; Stamp, Pollock; Juninho, Barmby; Fjortoft. Substitutes not used: Hendrie, Moreno, Hignett.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Immel; I Brightwell, Symons, Curle, Ingram; Summerbee, Brown, Kinkladze, Lomas; Quinn, Creaney. Substitutes not used: Phillips, Crooks, Coton (gk).
Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).
Bookings: Middlesbrough: Liddle, Pollock. Manchester City: Lomas, Quinn.
Man of the match: Kinkladze. Attendance: 29,469.Reuse content