MIDDLESBROUGH 3 – SAINTS 1
2 months or so ago it seemed there was no possibility of Saints making Europe. It was just going to be a dull ending to the season.
However 3 wins from four under Paul Sturrock allowed everyone to dream again – specifically with the league table being as tight as it is.
Even the brand-new employer and the players have actually been talking openly about the possibility of making a late charge up the league to slip into a UEFA Cup location.
It’s still agonisingly in reach with the groups in between Saints and 4th location so remarkably irregular.
But this defeat against another team chasing 5th spot has actually put a serious dent in the aspirations for this season.
Maybe more pointedly however, the manner of the defeat recommended there are groups currently much better than Saints in between them and those golden, much well known, European berths.
Mentioning disparity, the difference between this performance and the previous video game at Wolves could barely have been more marked.
To be reasonable, the distinction in the quality of the opposition was obvious too.
Against Wolves, Saints were slick, quick, definitive, controling and imperious. They fasted to close down the ball, played to their strengths and were worthwhile winners.
Versus Boro they were torn to shreds for the first 45 minutes. It was a total demolition task from Steve McClaren’s impressive side.
With the similarity the positive Juninho, Zenden, Mendieta, Maccarone and Nemeth running at you, you require to be strong, work hard and wish for the very best.
Regretfully, in the first 45, Saints were discovered wanting.
There was an enhancement after half-time, particularly when Marian Pahars got in the fray, however already the damage was mostly done.
After the match there was talk of this being the worst Saints performance of the season. It wasn’t that bad.
At least in this match, unlike against Portsmouth last month, Saints rolled up their sleeves and battled – they just weren’t great on the day.
There are a lot of similarities to be drawn between Saints and Boro with both sides being well organised, having a strong work principles and a good group spirit.
But the specifying distinction between the 2 groups right now is that Boro have that additional little class thanks to the gamers noted previously.
It’s not sufficient to make them as excellent as, say, Arsenal, however in the mood they remained in yesterday they would have provided any person a great game.
Even the durable Saints fans who made the long trip up north, and even longer feeling journey back, need to have begrudgingly enjoyed Boro’s marvellous football.
They gave Saints a best run-around. No surprise they are the Premiership’s 2nd top scorers in 2004.
After a reasonably strong start from Saints, Antti Niemi had to stay out Juninho and Massimo Maccarone before Boro actually got to work. Then they began cutting the Saints defence to ribbons.
They took the lead on 23 minutes when Maccarone played in Szilard Nemeth. He pulled the back to Juninho, who smashed a first-time shot into the leading corner from 10 backyards.
There were appeals that Maccarone was offside when he got the ball however nothing was provided.
That was the case once again when Claus Lundekvam’s shot into the risk location was cleared off the line by the Italian striker – suggestions were that it was with his hand.
After a great last-ditch tackle from Yoann Folly and a scramble away by Stephen Crainey, it was 2-0. The ball was played through to Maccarone who out-muscled Lundekvam and charged into the area.
Niemi concerned satisfy the ball and player with his feet and it was up to Nemeth who made no error in slotting home.
Into the second half and Saints were much more powerful, you didn’t feel whenever Boro had the ball they may score.
But the game was killed 4 minutes into the 2nd period when Maccarone neatly finished throughout Niemi after being unintentionally played in by Rory Delap, chasing after back Fracnk Queudrue.
On 57 minutes Sturrock replaced Fabrice Fernandes with Pahars and unexpectedly Saints had fresh life and attacking incentive injected into them.
And they pulled one back with 20 minutes staying when Mark Schwarzer had an ideal flap at a ball from a corner and it was up to James Beattie, captain for the day, who remained composed and volleyed house his 5th objective in his last 3 journeys to Boro.
There was one additional occurrence of note when Niemi managed a wise stop to reject Juninho. But already the match, in addition to three points and the imagine reaching Europe through the league this season, was virtually over.