For the manager of a side who have taken only one point out of their last 10 games, Bryan Robson was remarkably composed after Middlesbrough's latest defeat, at home to Everton.
"The mood in the dressing- room is very upbeat," he said. "We've just about ended our run of injuries and suspensions and next week I'll be able to field virtually a full strength team at West Ham. There will be no more excuses after next Saturday."
Maybe Robson was whistling in the dark, but up stepped his captain, Derek Whyte, to reinforce the message. "We had five key players missing today, but we kept our passing game going, particularly in the second half. We played the game as it is meant to be played, not the long ball game. We are starting to get it right."
Those of us who had watched Middlesbrough's pretty passing getting them nowhere against resolute opposition wondered if we had been watching the same game. It was not until Robson sent on his latest Brazilian import, Branco, with about 10 minutes remaining that the Everton defence looked remotely worried.
They had been defending a two-goal lead comfortably for most of the second half until Branco let go a 30-yard drive that flashed narrowly past the post.
Prior to that, no one in the Middlesbrough side seemed to have a clue about how to find the net. The best chance of the half fell to Jan-Age Fjortoft, who clipped the bar from seven yards with only the keeper to beat.
Everton snatched the lead through Tony Grant, who scored from a narrow angle after Gary Walsh had pushed out Graham Stuart's header via the crossbar.
On the stroke of half-time, Andrei Kanchelskis applied the killer punch. He seized on a headed clearance from Dave Watson and set off pursued by three Middlesbrough defenders. Curtis Fleming was the man who clipped the flying winger's heels in the box. Andy Hinchcliffe crisply converted the penalty.
Goals: Grant (28) 0-1; Hinchcliffe (pen, 45) 0-2.
Middlesbrough (4-3-3): Walsh; Cox, Barron, Whyte, Fleming; Kavanagh (Branco, 79), Mustoe, Moore; Hignett (Hendrie, 79), Fjortoft, Barmby. Substitute not used: Blackmore.
Everton (4-3-3): Southall; O'Connor, Watson, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe; Grant, Parkinson, Ebbrell; Kanchelskis, Ferguson, Stuart. Substitutes not used: Limpar, Amokachi, Kearton (gk).
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Booked: Everton: Unsworth, Parkinson, O'Connor.
Man of the match: Unsworth.
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