Middlesbrough 1 - Blues 0

Last updated : 22 September 2002 By Richard Barker

It was very much a case of 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' for Blues 5 days on from their 3-0 victory over Aston Villa, as they simply never got going until well into the second half.

Blues fielded an unchanged side yet again, following Robbie Savage's and Clinton Morrison's return to full fitness after picking up knocks in the bruising derby with Villa. There was one change on the bench, however, with American International Jovan Kirovski coming in for the injured Bryan Hughes. Middlesbrough started with a triple pronged attack, including Massimo Maccarone - one time Blues target prior to the arrival of Morrison from Crystal Palace.

Steve Bruce's men started slowly, simply not adapting to the tempo of the game, and struggled to retain any sort of possesion. The formation was adapted somewhat too, with Paul Devlin almosy occupying a right wing back role, in an attempt to shackle Boro's dangerous left sided player, Franck Queudrue. Despite the odd corner, it really was all Boro - who had a goal disallowed for offside - and it was no real surprise when they took the lead after 29 minutes.

Szilard Nemeth won a free-kick on the left hand corner of the Blues penalty area, and Queudrue placed the ball. Anyone who has seen anything of the French full-back knows that, like our own Martin Grainger, he is often inclined to shoot from such positions to surprise the goalkeeper who is expecting a ball across the face of their goal. However, Nico Vaesen obviously hadn't seen a lot of Queudrue, who beat him at his near post with a sweet left-footed strike. It was reminiscent of Danny Murphy's strike past Vaesen at Anfield, and is now the third time in 7 games that Vaesen has been beaten by a direct free kick - twice at his near post.

Boro's opener did give Blues something of an impetus to go after the game, and they began to get themselves back into the contest somewhat, with Stern John firing wide and Damien Johnson beginning to cause problems. The game heated up somewhat also with referee Andy D'Urso ever eager to show hisyellow card, Savage and Maccarone amongst his victims.

Bruce made a slightly strange alteration at the interval, with Stan Lazaridis coming on to replace Martin Grainger. Lazaridis adopted his usual left wing role, whilst natural right winger Johnson moved to left back. Either way, the change did appear to have some effect, with Lazaridis hogging the left hand touchline, and as such taking Robbie Stockdale out of the game, and allowing Johnson acres of space ahead of him to attack.

Blues created many more opportunities in the second half, yet never worked Mark Schwarzer enough, with John and Morrison both off target with headers and Aliou Cisse firing over the bar. Indeed, only after about 75 minutes did Blues really get at what looked like a suspect Boro defence, with substitute Kirovski coming close to scoring with his first touch in a Royal blue shirt and Geoff Horsfield causing more problems in 10 minutes on the pitch than Stern John did in 80.

Boro themselves should have killed the game off in a frantic final 10 minutes, with Queudrue and substitute Alen Boksic both missing gilt-edged chances - the latter foiled superbly by Vaesen.

However, no more goals were forthcoming, and Boro took all three points which were probably deserved... just.

After 3 excellent performances against Leeds, Liverpool and Villa, this shouldn't get Blues fans too down, though for the vast majority of the game it was something of a 'nothing' performance. Another worry was that Middlesbrough really weren't up to much themselves, and yet still came out of the game with a victory, despite their own lacklustre performance. Still, other results mean Blues still sit nicely in the middle of the table, and can concentrate on their next opponents, Middlesbrough's north east rivals Newcastle United, at St Andrews in a week's time.

Vaesen - Beaten at his near post again. Mixed.
Kenna - Quiet.
Grainger - Struggled.
Purse - Defensivley good, appalling distribution.
Cunnigham - Not quite at his best, but adequate.
Devlin - Subdued.
Cisse - Strong, but flitted in and out of the game.
Savage - All action as always.
Johnson - Reasonable considering he spent 45 minutes at left back.
John - Disappointing.
Morrision - Lacked his usual touch in front of goal.

Lazaridis - So-So. Lacked service, but failed to deliver himself.
Kirovski - Made an impact.
Horsfield - Impressive but brief appearance.

Report by: Richard Barker