Middlesbrough's unbeaten home run continues, Southampton's longest sequence without defeat carries on, the clamour around James Beattie grows louder still. But, at the end of a pulsating contest, one significant stat is no more: Middlesbrough's 50-game run without a penalty, the longest in the Premiership, is over.
And the last time they were awarded one was on September 29, 2001 – at home to the same opponents, Southampton. It came when they were two down to Beattie and a 30-yard wonder strike from Noel Whelan had finally stirred them into life.
In the 83rd minute, Luke Wilkshire tumbled as Paul Telfer stole the ball from him, and referee David Elleray pointed to the spot. It is so long since Boro's last such kick that they have no recognised taker. Up stepped substitute Massimo Maccarone – dropped for the last six games after a run of no goals in 11 – and with consummate composure, he rolled in the ball and brought an extraordinary game to level terms.
Middlesbrough calmly kicked off but Matt Oakley steamed straight through the delicate Job and then Beattie corkscrewed into him for good measure. In the fifth minute Fabrice Fernandes flitted off his wing and grazed the bar; he repeated the feat seven minutes later and lashed against the post. The rebound was so rapid it defeated Jo Tessem from a yard and Beattie failed with a slide to find a final touch from an inch.
Boro were giving the Saints the space in which to play, particularly Fernandes who Frank Queudrue and Jonathan Greening found unreadable and untouchable, but Nemeth made room for a hat-trick of chances in the first 20 minutes.
Beattie's opener came in the 40th minute and it was a joy to behold. Fernandes crossed beautifully on to the striker's head. Using his eyebrows and a sixth sense, Beattie deftly deflected the ball on to the unmarked Marsden. Rather than take the easy option and blast it across the face of goal, Marsden tried to return it to Beattie on the edge of the area. It worked. Now in space, Beattie shaped himself as he waited for the ball to drop and then emphatically volleyed it home.
At half-time, the Boro manager Steve McClaren replaced the intricate Job with the more expansive Noel Whelan in a more regular 4-4-2 formation. The manager also administered a sharp retort to his sides' collective posterior and they responded with two quick corners, the second of which resulted in Oakley clearing Greening's shot off the line.
Even Alen Boksic, who might not have been on the pitch in the first half despite his name being on the team sheet, responded, spinning a snapshot over the bar.
But the game looked to be beyond Boro before the hour was up with Beattie's second. His finish from 25 yards was as superb as the mistake that made it was awful: Tony Vidmar inexplicably passed to him and he unarguably hammered it home.
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