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Friday, April 07, 2006

Middlesbrough v Basel FC: another dramatic English comeback

Last night Middlesbrough Football Club practically did what Liverpool FC achieved last May in the European Cup final, and practically under the same circumstances. Middlesbrough entered into last night's UEFA Cup tie with Basel FC at The Riverside two goals to the bad from the 1st leg at St. Jacob-Park. Last week's TV coverage, I presume it was on Five, did another injustice by pronouncing the Swiss team as 'Barl' or 'Baaal', the former is the French pronunciation. It is 'Baa-sel' or 'Bay-sel'. Now, last week the BBC post-match report on the 1st leg began with:

"Middlesbrough have a montain to climb in their Uefa Cup quarter-final with FC Basle (sic!!) after conceding twice in the last three minutes of the first half. Steve McClaren's side fell behind when Argentine Matias Delgado beat Mark Schwarzer after his long-range shot took a wicked bounce. Midfielder David Degen then raced through to double the advantage with the last kick of the half.....Emanuel Pogatetz had to be carried off after breaking his nose in an aerial challenge."

Middlesbrough made great efforts that time but were outplayed on many occasions, particularly along the wings upon a pitch that seemed more suited to a local park in Fife than in the ground of a top Swiss team competing in the UEFA Cup. I wondered if the pitch had been deliberately allowed to attain its condition. Nonetheless, Middlesbrough began last night's match two goals down, Pogatetz out for the remainder of the season with a nasty facial injury, Gaizka Mendieta out with a broken metatarsal, and Lee Cattermole unfit. If they didn't take the game to Basel, they faced an exit from what they have worked so hard to progress in. As one quote put it, "if Boro play at a high tempo in the second leg Basle (sic) won't be able to live with us."

Oh, how those very words came to light. But not before Middlesbrough could have had a penalty, as Aiyegbeni Yakubu was tackled by midfielder Mile Sterjovski. Yet some 10mins later a ball over the home defence found Boris Smiljanic on the left, who headed across goal for the Brazilian Eduardo Adelino Da Silva to score to further compound Middlesbrough's fears. Now they needed four goals, it wasn't impossible, it was quite realistic, but it would depend on their resolve from that point on. When you consider that, you are the proverbial badger in a corner, therefore you have no alternative but to fight your way out. Middlesrbough's biggest boxer was Mark Viduka.

Daniel Majstorovic held his task of marking Viduka tightly but the Australian is skilful and smart for his size and can be underestimated. He collected a pass just by the Basel 'D' with his back to goal, turned his marker and fired a shot that wrong-footed keeper Pascal Zuberbuhler. The comeback was on, albeit weakly, and if Middlesbrough could only score another before half time then two goals in the second half and a tight defence could see them through . Then before half time Yakubu almost did just that, turning Majstorovic on the bounce, but his shot was not powerful enough to beat the keeper.

Second half, Steve McClaren brought on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for James Morrison, effectively changing the 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, Hasselbaink an unorthodox link behind the front two, increasing the attacking potential. On 57mins Yakubu released Viduka, who timed his run to outpace the defence, sidestep Zuberbuhler and tuck away the ball for no.2. Now with some 30mins more remaining, the comeback expectation became more vibrant, the crowd imploring for more, sensing the possibility with time remaining that Middlesbrough could score two goals. McClaren sensed it too, bringing off the head-bandaged Franck Queudrue on 67mins for another striker in Italian Massimo Maccarone, Middlesbrough now had four strikers in a potential 3-3-4 or a 3-3-1-3!!

That very expectation then turned more realistic, as Basel's main defensive rock Majstorovic gave away a foul in the Middlesbrough box and proceeded to stall George Boateng from starting a quick attack. Boateng verbally remonstrated and the Swede defender raised his hand to Boateng's neck, which was spotted by the Russian referee Yuri Baskakov. Having been already booked, Majstorovic was sent off for a second yellow, 20mins remaining, including injury time, for Middlesbrough to score those two vital goals.

Middlesbrough took every opportunity of possession that came their way as Basel looked to get all behind the ball. Stewart Downing and Stuart Parnaby took turns in attacking gaps on the wings, but huge inspiration followed Fabio Rochemback as he found Hasselbaink in space, the Dutchman touching the ball once to tee it up and then unleashing his trademark drive from 20-25 yards past the keeper. With 79mins gone, the score now 3-3, one more goal was needed for Middlesbrough to complete a comeback that at best seemed unlikely. And score, they did. A relentless second half onslaught on the Basel goal reaped excellent dividends as chance after chance was thwarted until, in the last minute of normal time, yet another Rochemback shot from outside the box was this time spilled by Zuberbuhler, and Maccarone was on hand on the right to follow it up with a side-foot scuff that found its way into the net, despite Zuberbuhler's outstretched left-hand.

Middlesbrough FC had completed the expectation.

Now they needed to instruct their injury time defence. Basel had a last ditch corner to take, a minute remaining of injury time, keeper Zuberbuhler came up, approximately 6'6", McClaren threw on young England U-18 defender Andrew Taylor for Rochemback, Taylor immediately went over to mark the keeper, jostling occurred between the two requiring the referee to come over and have brief words, Chris Riggott instead stepped up to mark the keeper, the corner came and was headed away slightly, Riggott came to clear, Zuberbuhler caught him unceremoniously and was booked. Danger over, the whistle went, and The Riverside was ecstatic, the Basel players were understandably looking down, the Middlesbrough players understandably elated.

This comeback ranks alongside that of last May and of Manchester City in the FA Cup at White Hart Lane in February 2004, when they faced a second half 3-0 and a man down with Joey Barton too fiery in protestation for Rob Styles' liking. I mentioned how Middlesbrough did practically what Liverpool had done but that reference also includes when Liverpool also faced Basel FC, in the Champions League in 2002/03. Drawing at Anfield 1-1, we needed to win, only to go to St Jacob-Park and concede three goals within half an hour, therefore needing four goals but instead scoring three.

That time Basel played for the away goal and last night they did the same, but they hadn't reckoned on lightning not striking twice in their favour. Unless lightning had a name like Viduka. Potentially, with results like this and against Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd at The Riverside, McClaren will not take up the England coach role. He is now Middlesbrough, through and through.



Blogger T said...

Great review Redsman... almost as good as the match itself!

I saw the last ten minutes and got up off my feet in celebration when Maccarone latched onto the rebound from Rochemback's shot.

I wrote about Boro on this site two weeks ago saying that they are underrated, and that McClaren deserves good recognition for blending youth with experience, plus being willing to be innovative with formation changes before and during games. Last night backed all these points up.
Simply fantastic stuff by the Boro and Steve McClaren!

4/07/2006 4:13 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

It was tremendous, I was there throughout the second half particularly cheering them on, I just love the pressure they were under and having the remote possibility of achieving the comeback. It made for great entertainment and achievement for the club and I hope it was not in vain when they face Steaua Bucharest. Middlesbrough deserve to get to Eindhoven.


4/07/2006 10:25 pm


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