Middlesbrough have so much ground to make up in their Premiership safety mission that George Carman, in addition to fighting for the three points docked for their no-show at Ewood Park in December, may yet ask for that noted Blackburn follower Dennis Taylor too. It has not quite reached the stage, however, at which the Teesside cosmopolitans need the football equivalent of snookers.
In hitting Derby for six at the Riverside Stadium last night, the team adrift at the foot of the Premiership clutched to the life-raft of their first League win since Boxing Day, only their third in six months. It was Middlesbrough's most emphatic victory as a Premiership club - and featured another rarity, three of them in fact.
At kick-off time Fabrizio Ravanelli was without a League goal from open play since November. By the final blast of Mike Reed's whistle, on this occasion greeted with welcome relief by an East Midlands team, the White Feather had three to feel rather tickled about.
Jim Smith has been known to indulge in the odd dressing room tea-cup storm and the Bald Eagle, whose players face Ravanelli and company again in the sixth round of the FA Cup at the Baseball Ground on Saturday, probably had the crockery flying behind the firmly closed doors. He was probably scratching that famously polished pate too.
His players started with such a greater sense of urgency they might have been four goals ahead before Middlesbrough took delivery of a Kinder surprise: Vladimir Kinder, their Slovak wing-back, opening the goal-feast after 23 minutes with a swerving 30-yard shot.
Ravanelli, having missed a first-half sitter, atoned by burying the chance fashioned for him eight minutes into the second half by Emerson. At that stage, Middlesbrough were heavily indebted for their handy cushion to Mark Schwarzer, who denied Dean Sturridge with two top-drawer saves.
But then Bryan Robson could sit back and savour the sight of his players cutting loose. Craig Hignett's tidy finish provided goal number three in the 69th minute and, with red shirts swarming forward, Middlesbrough plundered three more in the final nine minutes.
Mikkel Beck provided a precise side-footed finish to Phil Stamp's defence- splitting pass in the 81st minute. Then, a minute later, Ravanelli shot his second from close range before rounding Russell Hoult, with five minutes left, to complete his third hat-trick as Middlesbrough's pounds 7m man.
Paul Simpson's last-minute reply was more of an apology than a consolation. The Rams had been well and truly rammed.
Middlesbrough (4-3-1-2): Schwarzer; Fleming, Pearson (Blackmore, 83), Festa, Kinder (Cox, 62); Mustoe, Emerson (Stamp, 73), Hignett; Juninho; Beck, Ravanelli. Substitutes not used: Moore, Roberts (gk).
Derby County (3-4-3): Hoult; Dailly, Stimac, Laursen (McGrath, 21); Carsley (Simpson, 76), Van der Laan, Powell, Rowett; Sturridge, Ward, Asanovic (Willems, 65). Substitutes not used: Flynn, Taylor (gk).
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).
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