Middlesbrough heroes: Producing Teeside's very own Fantastic Four
Which one of these circumstances is the odd one out?
1) You are 0-3 down, in the Champions League Final, against AC Milan, it's half time, 45mins to go, and you need three goals to get back level.
2) You are 0-1 down, 0-3 on aggregate, in the quarter-final 2nd leg of the UEFA Cup against FC Basel, have scored a goal back in return, it's half time, and you need three more goals to win to progress into the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
3) You are 0-2 down, 0-3 on aggregate, in the semi-final 2nd leg of the UEFA Cup against former European Champions Steaua Bucharest, have pulled a goal back, it's half time, and you need three more goals to win to progress into the UEFA Cup Final.
Answer: None. They all involved sensational comebacks in European football.
'It was not too long ago they were throwing season tickets at him; now they will probably throw bouquets.'
Words to that effect were mentioned in commentary in regard to Steve McClaren. The European Cup Final 2005 we already know about. Go back to when Middlesbrough faced FC Basel on March 30th, at the Sankt Jakob-Park stadium, where two quick goals within two minutes of each other from Mathias Delgado and Daniel Degen, just before half time, placed a burden on the away side. A week later, Basel came to The Riverside stadium to complete the job with a comfy enough advantage to begin with and then adding another goal through Eduardo Da Silva after some 20mins. It looked well and truly Middlesbrough were going to go out after a superb campaign.
Mark Viduka had other plans, pulling one back before half time and then emerging, with help from Fabio Rochemback and sub Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, in the second half with another goal that actually made for hope. Boro were aided some way through the dismissal of defender Daniel Majstorovic, and then Hasselbaink added a third with a trademark strike from 20-25 yards and the hope then turned into near possibility. Then when we dared to dream, having been introduced in the 67th minute, Massimo Maccarone aimed low and well to beat Pascal Zuberbuhler at his near post in the last minute of normal time.
I said in my article on that match that Basel looked for lightening to strike twice, only that it did but it's name was Viduka. Tonight, those who watched ITV4 saw lightening proverbially strike twice in the name of Middlesbrough FC. Go back to last week Thursday, 20th April, as Middlesbrough faced Steaua Bucharest at the Ghencea stadium, and they again went behind to a Nicolae Dica goal, allowing the Romanian to gather, turn and shoot, with Mark Schwarzer having no chance. Boro came away with just the single goal deficit, and returned tonight to overturn it. But they got off to a bad point after 16mins when Petre Marin came inside on his right and took a shot that Bradley Jones, covering for the cheekbone-injured Schwarzer, only managed to palm forward. That man Dica was allowed time to tee up the ball and deposit it into the corner. To make matters worse, a Gabriel Bostina corner was met by centre-back Dorin Goian's head, Jones managed to block, Stuart Parnaby stuck a foot out to clear but Goian controlled it and scored, with 25mins gone. It seemed to be definitely all over for Middlesbrough, for they now needed four goals again to proceed. It happened once, it couldn't happen again.
Well, it happened before in Ataturk last year, it happened before at The Riverside against Basel, so why couldn't it happen again? The Middlesbrough players were formulated in the 3-2-3-2 that brought them a 4-1 victory against Man Utd at the same ground, and tonight, after Goian's goal, they looked to go for the comeback yet again. Even with the inconvenience of Gareth Southgate coming off for Maccarone, Middlesbrough looked one way only. Viduka looked to feed the right side where Parnaby had popped up before, and he did it again for Maccarone on 33mins, who collected and shot past the Portuguese Carlos Fernandes. Slovakian ref Lubos Michel blew for half time and again Middlesbrough faced an identical uphill struggle to that previously experienced almost a month ago. The comeback looked to be incredibly on again.
Steaua were pinned in their own half from the beginning of the second half. Hasselbaink was fed the ball from Maccarone but it came off his shin and went wide. Middlesbrough relentlessly came forward with no respite, with Maccarone and Stewart Downing on the wings, Rochemback and George Boateng battling in the centre. Hasselbaink took on the defence and made it into the box but one touch too many found he lost control and he went down, theatrically for the referee. A number of balls were crossed into the box but were always too heavy for anyone to latch onto, Carlos coming out confidently to catch. So it would take a clever ball to attract the keeper out and be enough to be attacked. On 62mins, Downing gathered on the left and crossed, Hasselbaink and Viduka both jumped and it was the Australian who made the vital touch as Carlos came out. Steaua were hit but not stunned, they held the advantage still. Middlesbrough pressed even more for the vital third, and it came on 72mins. The ball was cleared from a Boro corner, Rochemback headed it back, the Steaua defence reacted too slow and the ball made its way over to Downing, who took aim and fired, Carlos parried it along the goal and Chris Riggott stepped up to placed it in. What had looked too incredible to believe some 50mins ago was almost becoming true. Not only that, Middlesbrough were one goal away from the club's first ever UEFA Cup Final.
The tempo of the attacked then dropped a little, with 18mins+ to go, as if there was no need to panic so much now, McClaren had told his players to not get too agitated before the two second half goals were scored, and now they could relax just a little to gather thoughts and keep track of their focus. Destiny was in their hands and they played the waiting game, for Steaua would come forward only when they kept possession in the middle, thus they were in charge briefly enough to waste some seconds. One or two balls didn't make their target for Boro but they knew they could afford to do so for the moment. Then they came forward and all knew where they should be. Carlos came out to gather a ball that he then let slip as defender Sorin Ghionea came to clear it but saw his keeper get to it first. Carlos gathered the ball quickly a second time, with Viduka and Maccarone ready to pounce. Ghionea aimed a verbal volley a few inches away from his keeper's head, which was slumped over the ball on the ground, as the defender wanted his keeper to call and collect.
That was too near a disaster for the Romanians, for coach Cosmin Olaroiu would possibly 'face the music' back in Bucharest were Steaua to go out after holding a 0-3 advantage. But with 89mins on the clock, the Steaua coach made a date with the Romanian orchestra. A Boro corner was headed out, Rochemback headed it back, it wasn't dealt with by the defence and spilled off one defender towards Downing. Downing then took on the defender and crossed, Carlos didn't come out for it, and as it went past Viduka, Maccarone took up the invite and make contact with his head to grab that vital fourth goal.
The comeback had happened again at The Riverside.
Maccarone popped up to grab another vital fourth goal for Middlesbrough in Europe and the Teesiders were some 4mins away from the final. Now we began to see a different Steaua, they needed to come forward now, no longer afford to defend so deep. Ugo Ehiogu came on to harden the defence in replace of Hasselbaink. The Romanian side found vigour to threaten the Boro goal and somewhat inexplicably Franck Queudrue handballed just outside of the box. I wondered if Middlesbrough would now throw away their immense effort to get so far, but the freekick struck a Steaua player in the wall and was thankfully decided to have resulted in a goal kick. Soon after, Mr Michel blew to end another dramatic European night for Middlesbrough, scarves were thrown and strewn amongst the ground near the advertising boards as players picked them up and wore them with huge pride. Another tremendous night for another tremendous comeback, to face Spain's Sevilla on 10th May in the Philips Stadion, Eindhoven.
Now cast your minds way, way back, two decades exactly, when liquidators placed locks on the gates of Ayresome Park and Middlesbrough were that close to closing up for good, when Steve Gibson took control. Middlesbrough lost a FA Cup Final to Chelsea 2-0 in 1997, then actually added silverware with a League Cup 2-1 victory over Bolton in 2004, the first cup in their history. Chairman Steve Gibson said before the 1st leg Basel game, "Twenty years ago this club was on its knees and it is fitting that the anniversary could bring us a special reward." Middlesbrough face a Sevilla side currently 6th in La Liga with only 10 league defeats out of thirty-three, who have beaten off, narrowly, a Schalke 04 side currently 4th in De Bundesliga with four league defeats out of thirty-one. For English football it is superb and sets up yet another England v Spain European final clash. It is enough of an anniversary for Middlesbrough to win it.