Middlesbrough v Everton

FA Carling Premier League, Saturday 2 March 1995; Cellnet Stadium, Teesside.

Previous Match: Everton v Nottingham Forest Next Match: Everton v Coventry City

First, the facts ...

Middlesbrough (0) 0 Everton (2) 2
Grant 28, Hinchcliffe 45 pen.

Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Walsh, Cox, Whyte, Barmby, Fjortoft, Mustoe, Moore, Fleming, Kavanagh (Branco 80), Hignett (Hendrie 80), Barron. Subs Not Used: Blackmore.

Everton (4-4-2): Southall, Hinchcliffe, Unsworth, Watson, Stuart, Ferguson, Ebbrell, Parkinson, Kanchelskis, Grant, O'Connor. Subs Not Used: Limpar, Amokachi, Kearton. Booked: Unsworth, Parkinson, O'Connor.

Att: 29,807
Ref: D J Gallagher (Banbury).

Confident Everton sweep Boro aside

PA News Summary: Brazilian import Branco made his bow in the Premiership today but Middlesbrough slumped to their ninth defeat in 10 matches. Branco came off the bench with 10 minutes remaining but it was too late to turn the tide against a confident Everton side. And Boro player-manager Bryan Robson now knows he has a real fight on his hands to stave off a quick return to the Endsleigh League.

Branco and Robson were both expected to start the match. Instead the 31-year-old full-back stayed on the bench while Robson was still suffering from a niggling calf injury. The quality and experience of both players was badly missed against an Everton side, now pushing hard for a UEFA Cup place.

Joe Royle's men began the Middlesbrough slump on Boxing Day with a 4-0 victory -- and they again put the knife in today. Tony Grant scored his first league goal for the club and Andy Hinchcliffe weighed in with a penalty to give them a comfortable victory.

Middlesbrough who secured a point at Coventry last week to end a barren run of nine League games without a victory began in lively fashion. Everton keeper Neville Southall did well to thwart Nick Barmby after Alan Moore had played the ball through. Then Moore carved out another opening for Fjortoft but he cut the ball across the face of the goal when the fans were looking for a shot. Barmby again ghosted into space to receive a pass from Robbie Mustoe. However, after getting around Southall he took the ball too wide and the chance was lost.

Everton weathered that early storm and Andrei Kanchelskis cut inside, only to see his shot diverted to safety by defender Derek Whyte. Middlesbrough keeper Gary Walsh then made a marvellous point-blank save to keep out a header from John Ebbrell after Kanchelskis had flipped in the cross.

Fjortoft then saw a volley clip the top of the bar following a cross from Graham Kavanagh -- but this was to prove Middlesbrough's last real opportunity. Everton took the lead when Jon O'Connor delivered a fine cross; Graham Stuart's header was touched on to the bar by Walsh, only for Grant to volley the ball home for his first League goal for the club.

Everton went further ahead on the stroke of half-time when Kanchelskis was tripped by Curtis Fleming in the penalty box. Hinchcliffe made no mistake from the spot. Middlesbrough continued to battle away but their shooting was woeful and this was the eighth time in the last 10 matches that they had been unable to score. Kanchelskis was always a threat and Walsh parried his shot but only to Duncan Ferguson. However he was unable to get any power in the rebound.

Branco, wearing the No 30 shirt, came on with 10 minutes to go and it did not take him long to pick up the pace of the game. It took him only two minutes to thunder in a 30-yard shot, which whistled inches past Southall's post. Middlesbrough carved out one last chance when Fjortoft was left with only Southall to beat but he knocked the ball against the Everton keeper.

Boro Remain Upbeat Despite Defeat

Middlesbrough player-manager Bryan Robson refused to be downhearted after his side slumped to their ninth Premiership defeat in 10 matches.Everton secured a 2-0 victory at the Riverside Stadium thanks to goals from Tony Grant and Andy Hinchcliffe from the penalty spot. Middlesbrough were without five players through suspension while Robson was again missing with a calf injury and Steve Vickers suffered a late reccurrence of knee ligament trouble.

"The mood of the players is quite good," said Robson. "Everybody seems to be upbeat. I will soon have all my squad back from suspensions and injuries, so from next Saturday there will be no more excuses.

"Once we get closer to fielding our stronger side we will pick up points again."

Brazilian international Branco played the last 10 minutes and will have a run out for the reserves next Wednesday against Leicester in the Pontins League. The 31-year-old full-back came close to scoring a wonder-goal -- a 30-yard shot whistling inches past Neville Southall's left-hand post.

Robson said: "It was easy to see in training that Branco was no way 100% fit to play from the start. But when he did come on he showed the type of qualities that we require. It wouldn't have done him or the club any justice to start the game."

Everton are on course for a UEFA Cup place thanks to Grant's first League goal for the club and Hinchcliffe's strike right on half-time after the menacing Andre Kanchelskis had been floored in the area by Curtis Fleming. Manager Joe Royle made a speedy exit from Teesside and decided not to give his views on the match. But it is clear there is a new mood of optimism at Goodison Park following that shock FA Cup defeat by Port Vale. England Under-21 defender David Unsworth said: "It was a great team performance and we thoroughly deserved the three points. The spirit in the camp is great."

Walsh throws ball at Hinchcliffe's head!

John Henderson: I'm always impressed by the match reports that I read on Toffeenet.

I imagine the authors springing from their beds on a Saturday morning, doing 45 minutes of aerobic exercise before a brisk shower, and consuming a breakfast of fresh fruit and complex carbohydrates. They watch the match with intense concentration, instantly identifying home and away players and remembering each important incident for later clinical analysis.

Myself, I lurch from my pit as late as is possible when you have a 3-year old daughter, grab a couple of pieces of toast and lapse into a stupor before taking my seat, the game passing in a dream of euphoria, groans, and a churning stomach. On a good day I can remember the score.

The omens were bad. The Boro had an flashy new player on show, and as soon as I set out a bird deposited a sloppy pool of shit on the car windscreen. Things could have been worse. At least I had secured the services of the car avoiding the necessity of travelling by the bus which winds slowly through every deprived and decaying community in the North-East. Car parks being full I parked in a dingy backstreet and began the long hike across a dockyard wasteland towards the space-ship Riverside stadium.

The away fans are sited behind one of the goals - an advantage over those grounds where visitors are stuck in the footy equivalent of the restaurant table next-to-the-toilet. The stadium itself is quite decent. Of course it's a shame that given the chance to build something new they stuck to a fairly conventional design, and didn't build something impressive like the Huddersfield ground, but you can't have everything. What you can't have, apparently, is a scoreboard. Maybe they'll get around to that later.

The game? Oh yes. That started promisingly, with an attack on goal for about one minute, before several minutes of Boro pressure, an advancing series of throw-ins down our right side and early work for Jon O'Connor. Our response was to mass players down the left hand side. The teams looked lopsided - all crowded into one side waiting for Nev's high goal kicks. One of Nev's clearances was astonishingly bad - straight to a Boro player who promptly fluffed his chance. Why are keepers so crazy?

Stuart did a lot of pretending to be a winger, in Limpar's absence, and regularly got the better of the defender. More unusual was Dunc also cast in this role, bustling for the ball near the corner flag, but without anyone like himself he could cross to.

Of more concern was that a third player also saw himself as a winger - Andy Hinchcliffe, foraging for the ball down the left-hand-side, but worryingly deserting his post at full-back position, and giving Boro the free ride which saw Barmby escaping his markers and putting Fjortoft into a scoring position from which he hit the bar.

This was, however, a flash in the pan. The Blues took the game to Boro with Dunc winning high balls outside the box, and flicking the ball to his colleagues - typically Stuart - but without a great deal of penetration until Stuart was sent clear down the right and put in a pin-point cross to Ebbrell whose header was well saved by Walsh's reflexes.

This was no surprise to the geniuses in the stands - me and the bloke sitting next to me. With the players stuck over on the left, the time seemed ripe for the ball to be played into the open spaces of the right for AK to do his usual impersonation of Billy Whizz on speed. In fact he'd had one good attempt on goal - you've seen it before - beating a man, cutting in to the box, firing in a shot. It was headed for the top left corner, but a lucky deflection saved the Boro bacon.

However, it was left to Jon O'Connor to do the job after half an hour, racing down the right and landing the ball on Stuart's head. Walsh was able to keep it out, but Grant made sure lashing the ball in where it belongs, and celebrating in a style to satisfy his critics. Less savoury was Walsh's reaction - unseen by the ref - throwing the ball at Hinchcliffe's head. Actually, as the game went on, I felt like doing the same.

More attacking from the Blues, with worrying Boro counters - the bad thing about being behind a goal is that the chances at the other end look more dangerous than they are. I was afraid that the Boro might score before half time, but just before the whistle Kanchelskis broke free and galloped goalwards, down the middle. You just can't catch the guy when he's on the move, and two Boro defenders had no choice but to tackle him from behind, the inevitable trip resulting in a penalty.

I'm a bit confused, to tell the truth, why the ref was not obliged to issue an automatic red card, but there you go. The spot kick was confidently executed by Hinchcliffe. One of our regular correspondents will no doubt tell us the effect this had on Unsworth's psyche. Sorry - I was too busy praying. Half time saw me scuttling down to get a cuppa, and to watch the replays on a TV screen in the tea bar area.

An onslaught was expected after half time, and it duly arrived. A more competent team than Boro would have scored. A more competent defence would have kept them out with ease. As it was we gave them a lot of chances that they completely failed to capitalise on.

Time and again we gave the ball away, relying for saviour on the reliable feet of Tony Grant and John Ebbrell. It would have been easy to boot it out to the right wing, but Kanchelskis seemed to be as lively as Boris Yeltsin and the wing was run by O'Connor, who was unlucky not to be awarded a penalty as he was tripped on his way to goal. Instead we put the ball up the left wing, where it as frequently lost, leading to a Boro attack as the worthless Hinchcliffe sauntered back.

Sometimes he made it back over the halfway line, mostly he didn't. Nev was obliged to save from Fjortoft, and Unsworth did what he does best - intervening with no nonsense to kill a dangerous attack. My nerves were frayed. Amo and Limpar warmed up on the touchline, but returned to their seats. We conceded corners, Dunc came back to help out. The attacks were broken up but our attempts to pass the ball out of trouble frequently misfired with lost possession.

The minutes crept by. Branco was brought on and almost immediately unleashed a rocket that missed the bottom corner by inches. But Boro were spent. Branco's flashy back-heels were too fancy for them. Dave and Unsy held us together and the final whistle sealed our victory.

A sour note was introduced by the announcement that we were to be kept in the ground until the Boro fans had departed "for our own safety". Fair enough, but we were kept cooped up for nearly half an hour after the game, which I can't see is necessary. I have not seen any bother at Everton games - we aren't exactly Millwall - and if the Boro fans can't behave then THEY should be kept behind in detention - not us!! On top of that the policing was the heaviest handed I've seen in a long while. The police must have been watching the "Miners Strike" episode of Our Friends In The North - I saw no need for one copper in particular beating a fan with his baton. A sour note.

Individual Ratings:

Southall -7- a solid display, with the usual heart-stopping brinkmanship

Hinchcliffe -4- a week ago people were calling for Amo's head. Let me be the first to demand that Hinchcliffe be transferred immediately. We used to have a problem at right back. Now we have one at left-back. Hinchcliffe was caught with his pants down far too often for comfort - it's OK for a full-back to attack, but they can't then expect to stay in the attacking half while their team-mates attempt to plug the holes they left.

Unsworth -7- a solid performance. Some foolishness, but he saved us a few times.

Watson -7- as usual, a rock of dependability. As usual, lacking pace.

O'Connor -8- a great display. Good tackling, and dangerous attacks down the wing. Some silly mistakes.

Ebbrell -8- why do people have it in for this guy? He's solid at the back, and perceptive up front. Of all the team he's the only one who seems to realise that you should pass the ball where Kanchelskis has to run for it - like throwing a stick for a dog - not just give it to his feet.

Grant -8- combined his skill with growing confidence. In the right place at the right time for his goal and also to help out the defence during the second half.

Parkinson -7- Fair midfield performance, but his tackling was not infrequently mistimed, resulting in a yellow card.

Stuart -7- good performance, dangerous runs, moved from wing to wing to torment the defenders.

Ferguson -7- won everything in the air, flicked the ball on to create danger, usual bustling aggression on the ground, helped in defence. Didn't always connect properly with the ball or threaten enough in the box.

Kanchelskis -6- who? Seemed to be asleep for most of the game. When he wakes up he tore the defence to bits, with a good shot and the penalty-giving run. Must try harder!!

Team -7- good enough to beat Boro, but we didn't create as much danger in the first half as we might have, and we gave the ball away alarmingly in the second.

Ref - Dermot Gallagher - no hesitation in giving the penalty, but he bottled out of giving one later on, and though he booked three Blues he seemed to develop a selective blindness when Boro players committed similar offences.

Baying Boro fans inspire wayward Ukranian

Guy McEvoy: A near full house of 'Boro worshipers made their way through appropriate drizzle to their new Mecca. The Riverside Stadium is like a lost temple that rises out of a grim industrial wasteland. The team that plays there is currently in Premiership free-fall. The religious 'Boro fans believed that the script dictated the poor run should be ended were it began on Boxing Day - with Everton. New signing Branco was on the bench as if to fuel that belief. Their faith though, was to slap them in the face; and all to the delight of the Blue section of the crowd!

The Everton team was unchanged from the one that competently took the points from Forest last week. Joe's characteristic reluctance to change a winning formula meant that Anders Limpar was to mark his return from suspension by joining Amokachi on the bench.

Despite a very early effort from 'Boro which Barmby really should have done better with, it did not take long for Everton to slip into a rhythm. Kanchelskis in particular looked up for the game. In the summer, Kanchelskis had rejected a move to Teesside in favour of a bid from a certain Merseyside team. The 'Boro supporters did not take the rejection lightly and his every touch was greeted with a din of boos, all of which seemed to spur him on. His first effort was a wonderful trademark drive that took the slightest of deflections to take it wide.

After quarter of an hour Stuart beat the offside trap to receive a cross in ample space on the right. His determined run concluded with an inch perfect cross onto the head of the unmarked Ebbrell all of about 3 feet from the goal-line. In his determination not to miss John headed the ball centrally instead of away from the keeper. This gave Walsh the millimetre he needed to pull off a genuinely superb reaction save from the kind of move you would put your mortgage on ending in a goal. Ebbrell's hands went to his head in astonished disbelief. So did mine.

Middlesbrough's shortcomings in defence though were apparent and the goal had to come. Young O'Connor did exceptionally well to get to the bounce near the right hand corner flag and volleyed a great first-time cross, which Stuart did equally well to connect with a lobbed header. Again, Walsh pulled off a great reaction save which tipped the ball onto the bar. Grant though was always going to be first to the rebound and made sure of no mistake as he smashed home the rebound to chalk up his first Premiership goal.

'Boro had a good chance to put themselves back in it when Barmby caught our defence on the hop and found Fjortoft completely unmarked in the box. Fortunately the Norwegian chose to go for the spectacular volley rather than go for the controlled effort that the space he'd been given could have afforded him. A sigh of relief was required as the ball fired over.

The game did start to get slightly bitty as the offside flag seemed to be wielded over-zealously for both teams. Also Ferguson was judged to have come up with some infringement virtually every time he won the ball, likewise no whistle was apparent every time he got bundled to the floor by his marker. His frustration with the referee was apparent. Other Everton refereeing victims were O'Connor who received a yellow card for a bread and butter foul which only seemed to be serious enough for the book because the player unfairly tackled chose to stay down for a bit, and more seriously, Graham Stuart who I believe will now have to serve a points suspension as a result of his booking for, well, I couldn't tell you what for.

Everton extended their lead after the in-form Kanchelskis broke free from the half-way semi-circle using his pace and body to beat the two chasing defenders to the box. Contact may well have been made outside the box but, from where I was sitting, it looked like Andrei decided he'd wait the crucial second 'till he took the tumble. Nevertheless, I was there with the loudest of them demanding the penalty (like you do!) and the referee (in the only conscientious decision he gave our way all afternoon), pointed to the spot. Unsworth again looked a bit peeved in the build up to Hinchcliffe sending Walsh the wrong way. Interestingly, despite the fact that the referee was certain enough a foul had been committed to give a penalty, no 'Boro player was shown a card.

It is more difficult to describe Everton's second half chances as we were kicking toward the opposite end and I was perched on the back row of the stand.

However, a particularly good chance did fall to Ferguson when he picked up a Kanchelskis cross inside the area, controlled it then fluffed his shot. Kanchelskis, who after everyone had watched the video replays at half-time was now attracting double the boos he had in the first half, managed another good effort. Parkinson, who was desperate to make up for an otherwise disappointing performance launched a dipping 30 yard screamer which just went over and O'Connor, admittedly from my distant vantage point, looked to have a very good shout for a penalty turned down. What goes around comes around I guess.

Middlesbrough meanwhile had only demanded one good save from Neville (he raced out to charge down Fjortoft's(?) shot) and, despite their ability to get into the last third of the field, they presented very little danger until the last 10 minutes when the work-permit holding (not that I'm bitter!) Branco finally made his appearance. His introduction certainly managed to lift 'Boro and it would be fair to say they had the better of the last few minutes. Branco's contribution was two rasping bullet like shots, one which went close enough to make all our hearts skip a beat, and a series of nice touches, though his clever back heeled flick proved too clever for the more mediocre in his team. It was too little, too late though and, after a deflected Branco free kick was desperately whipped away from the box, the referee blew for time.

It was yet another solid and important performance from Everton, you can tell that we've played well whenever Limpar is on the bench and the crowd don't demand his introduction.

I'm now getting Vertigo when I look at the table. When was the last time we were this high after Christmas?

Individual Performances:

Southall 7 - Again, a quiet day. Only had to make one really quality save. The reason I've not given him a higher score is because a couple of his kicks went askew.

O'Connor 7 - Another good performance, set up the first goal. Still getting caught out of position occasionally, nevertheless, made some extremely good tackles and looked a whole lot less intimidated. Who needs Hottiger?

Unsworth 8 - Relishing his return to central midfield, back to his best.

Watson 7 - Most of the glory went to Unsworth but Dave also had a good game, again kept a hawk-like eye on O'Connor so when he did stray Dave slipped wide right to cover him.

Hinchcliffe 7 - Never had as much to do as last time against Forest though did enough to reaffirm his new role as first-choice left back.

Grant 8 - Starting to command more of the action in the game. Showed off his usual great touches and grabbed a goal as well. I would consider him to be more naturally a wide player, however, his adjustment to his current role shows signs of the maturity and adaptability that complement his talents.

Parkinson 6 - A disappointing game all things considered. Missed tackles, put through some poor passes, it wasn't his day. To his credit you could see him desperately trying to get back into the game in the second half where he ran round like he was Graham Stuart or something, also had a great long distance effort.

Ebbrell 7 - That header will haunt him for years. Other than that did his job and showed good distribution.

Kanchelskis 8 - A thorn in the side of 'Boro all afternoon. Always looked likely to turn a game at any moment and did do with that (ahem) penalty shout.

Stuart 8 - Ditto any of my past 7 or 8 reports.

Ferguson 7 - Gave us a taste of his talents but was always frustrated by seemingly victimising refereeing.

Andrei likes the ball in front of him

Pieman Parkinson: Why are so many people giving Andrei stick after Saturday? I thought that he played well. I can only remember him receiving the ball in front of him (which is the ball he favours) once and that led to the penalty (which was never a penalty - the foul was clearly OUTSIDE the box - but if it had been a free-kick Boro would have probably been reduced to ten men). He also had a shot deflected just wide and his two efforts in the second-half caused Walsh problems.

(Incidentally, how did Ebbrell miss the second chance, never mind the header?) It was his run that set up Duncan's chance (which he fluffed horribly) and his cross set up the header for "the best targetman in Britain" (John Spencer, 'Goal' magazine, February 1996) which was brilliantly saved by Walsh in the last couple of minutes. Also, considering he has only played with O'Connor three times now I thought they combined fairly well.


Southall 7/8 - he had little to do but his save from Fjortoft - coming as it did in the last few minutes - all but clinched the win.

O'Connor 7/8 - he was exposed a couple of times in the first-half when Fjortoft pulled off him (including when he hit the bar) Overall, though, he defended fairly well - his tackling was brilliant - and he looked good going forward, including a brilliant ball to set up the goal. Getting better with every game. Marc who?!

Watson 7/8 - did what he had to and was a key figure in the second-half when Boro tried (and failed) to put us under pressure. Solid.

Unsworth 8 (MOTM) - getting back to his very best. He was only caught out once - when Barmby flicked the ball on and Fjortoft hit the bar - but it was like last season when he used his pace and strength to get the Blues out of several tricky spots. But would people please refrain from singing "Unsworth for England" - look what happened when he got his cap last year...

Hinchcliffe 7 - solid. He scored the second from the spot (I don't want to tempt fate but he never looks like he's going to miss a penalty does he?) and he looked comfortable in defence. The fact that Boro didn't have a recognised right-winger undoubtedly helped him.

Kanchelskis 8 - a constant threat. He won the (dubious) penalty with a brilliant burst of pace and he set up several other chances which we squandered.

Ebbrell 7 - he got through a lot of work and got forward several times. He would have got a higher mark but for that awful miss in the first-half and his miss at the start of the second.

Parkinson 7 - I'm Joe's biggest fan (that fact about him missing nine games this season and us losing them all shows his importance to the side) but he lost possession too many times. His reaction to being booked was a bit melodramatic - you would have thought he was going to miss the World Cup Final or something the way he reacted.

Grant 7/8 - scored a good goal which should give him some confidence in the future. Showed some very nice touches but he seemed to fade as the game went on though (as he did against United and Forest).

Stuart 7/8 - usual Stuart performance. He buzzed around and made a nuisance of himself up front. Did brilliantly to win the header that set up the first goal and (I think) it was his ball that sent Andrei through on the run that led to the penalty.

Duncan 7 - not a great game but then again if I had two men on my back all day then I might not play too well. Unlucky with his late header but should have done better with the chance from the Andrei cross.

Team: 7/8 - "comfortable" describes the win perfectly. We were never in danger after the first goal and we all but cruised through the second-half. Two clean sheets in a row - Craig Short has reason to feel a bit worried!

Ref: Gallagher 4 - what a pleasant change: a ref who has a grudge against Duncan. In the first-half whenever he went near the ball he was fouled but the ref gave him nothing. The funniest moment came when there was a scramble around the corner of the Boro area and players from both sides were flying in with studs showing (including Grant, if my memory serves me right!). Then Duncan went within five yards of the ball and the ref penalised him. The ref got better as the game went on though.

Boro suffering continues

By Patrick Barclay, Electronic Telegraph

Middlesbrough (0) 0 Everton (2) 2 Grant 28, Hinchcliffe 45 pen.

LESS than three months ago, when Middlesbrough beat Manchester City 4-1 to move into fourth place in the Premiership, no one envisaged anything like this. The grip of fear is tightening. One point from a possible 30 can only be described as relegation form.

Perhaps when Juninho returns from Olympic qualifying duty with Brazil to link up with his compatriot Branco at West Ham next Saturday, perhaps when the five suspensions that simplified Bryan Robson's selection yesterday are served, perhaps when Robson himself is fit again, their fortunes will improve.

But Middlesbrough were rather too easily brushed aside by a stronger and more confident Everton, who have lost only once in their own last 10 League matches while travelling in the opposite direction to their hosts.

It was all over, in effect, shortly before half-time when Andrei Kanchelskis, whose mastery over Curtis Fleming emphasised Middlesbrough's shortcomings, earned a penalty that many of the crowd harshly considered a product of cheating, but Andy Hinchcliffe converted. Tony Grant had struck earlier and Middlesbrough, two down, could muster no response.

At one stage Everton were toying with them, playing keep-ball, and yet still they carried the greater threat until Branco made his first appearance as substitute, coming on with John Hendrie for 11 minutes.

The cheer this brought was by far the loudest since the false optimism of the early stages - and Branco did show the fans something. A low, left-footed thump from 30 yards was only inches from its target, lifting Middlesbrough sufficiently for Neville Southall to be forced into an unprecedented save from Jan Aage Fjortoft.

A brave face characteristic of Robson, whose hopes of playing had been dashed by a recurrence of sciatica on Friday, materialised afterwards. "Overall, the performance was quite bright," he said, "and the players' mood is upbeat even though the results are bad.

"From my point of view the important thing is that we are getting back to more or less a full squad - so from next Saturday there are no excuses."

Branco, still a little rusty after prolonged inactivity, watched from the bench as his new club-mates gave a demonstration of their recent failings

It was at Goodison in December that Middlesbrough's season began to go wrong. Beaten 4-0 there, they lost a further seven League matches in succession, conceding 23 goals in the process, before keeping their sheet clean at Coventry last weekend.

To judge from the keen atmosphere in the Riverside Stadium initially, you would have thought that Middlesbrough, far from being concerned about a quick return to the Endsleigh League, were going for the Premiership title. But it was to turn sour.

Robson resisted the temptation to start with his second Brazilian signing, instead bringing a fellow native of Chester-le-Street, Mike Barron, 21, into his three-man central defence.

Branco, still a little rusty after prolonged inactivity, watched from the bench as his new club-mates gave a demonstration of their recent failings, surging into fruitless attack while leaving themselves vulnerable to Everton breaks.

From one of these Kanchelskis found Graham Stuart free on the right with time to measure a cross to the far post, where John Ebbrell's header brought a sharp save from Gary Walsh.

The goalkeeper's next serious test was passed with even greater distinction, but Walsh could not savour his achievement because a second later the ball was in the net, from which he plucked it with obvious anger.

Loose marking was the reason. When Everton's teenage right-back Jon O'Connor crossed from the perpetually troublesome right flank, no one picked up Stuart and, although his header was touched on to the crossbar by Walsh, the rebound fell to Grant, whose impressive technique was evident in a volley that raged irresistibly to give the 21-year-old midfielder a memorable first League goal.

How Middlesbrough regretted then that Fjortoft, given their only clear chance of the half, had leant back so that his drive from Graham Kavanagh's cross clipped the bar on its way over.

Things were to go from bad to worse for the home side a minute before the interval, when Kanchelskis was brought down by Fleming, and Hinchcliffe scored from the penalty spot. Kanchelskis, suspected of taking a dive, was booed when he emerged for the second half.

There was no conviction about this dispirited Middlesbrough, and the crowd were whistling in frustration long before the end until Branco's arrival produced at least a half-smile.

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Everton deepen Boro's plight

Louise Taylor, The Sunday Times

THE PERILS of pursuing an elitist transfer-market policy were again emphasised as Middlesbrough succumbed to a ninth defeat in 10 League matches.

Despondent Teessiders trudging home could have been forgiven for pondering if Bryan Robson was right to blow his £10m transfer-market budget for the season on two subtle, gossamer-style talents, Barmby and Juninho.

Barmby once more proved negligent in the finishing department, while Juninho was away on international duty with Brazil. Five suspensions and a couple of injuries meant that Boro exhibited a lack of strength in depth, suggesting that Robson took a huge risk in buying just two players.

He did, however, introduce a new face ­ on a free transfer. Accordingly, all eyes, not to mention cameras, were trained on Branco, even though Brazil's former left-back started as a substitute. Slightly overweight after three months without a competitive game, Branco was pronounced "nowhere near fit" by his new manager and thus restricted to the bench.

From that vantage point, the £20,000-a-week newcomer surveyed a makeshift defence. With Vickers indisposed, Barron made his debut at centre-half. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end; Barron's had to mark Ferguson.

Across at left-back, Fleming found himself up against Kanchelskis. The Ukrainian rejected Middlesbrough's overtures last summer, and it did not take him long to display a certain lack of respect for Robson's rearguard by whipping in the first of several swerving crosses, this time precipitating Ebbrell's header and Walsh's manful save.

Although rather lightweight in midfield, Middlesbrough did not lack scoring opportunities against an initially laissez-faire visiting back line. Indeed, in one of Everton's more somnolent moments, Fjortoft struck the top of the bar. As Robson put it: "At this level you've got to take your chances, and we didn't."

Fjortoft had due reason to regret snatching at that opening because, shortly afterwards, Everton edged ahead. O'Connor overlapped, crossing for Stuart to test Walsh with a header. Middlesbrough's goalkeeper succeeded in diverting it on to an upright, but the rebound fell conveniently for Grant to score close in.

A week previously, O'Connor had done well against Nottingham Forest's Woan and again he performed creditably. But the young right-back is acutely aware that he will forfeit his place if Hottiger is awarded a work permit after all. You wonder if Joe Royle's side requires the Swiss international; why not give O'Connor a run?

Hinchcliffe, Everton's left-back, made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time, scoring from the penalty spot after the referee judged Kanchelskis to have been felled.

The puzzle was why the referee did not red ­ or even yellow ­ card Fleming, who appeared to commit a tackle from behind at the edge of the area. Perhaps he was afforded the benefit of the doubt, because Kanchelskis, already stumbling, collapsed under a second challenge from Cox, possibly blurring the true culprit's identity.

No such doubt surrounds the origins of Middlesbrough's decline ­ a 4-0 defeat at Goodison over Christmas. It could easily have been four again, but Royle's men, on course for a place in the Uefa Cup, slipped into cruise mode for much of the second half.

That said, Fleming's second-half foul on O'Connor looked a far more obvious penalty than the one actually awarded. Dead-ball situations are Branco's forte and, wearing No 30, he entered the fray 10 minutes from time. Two minutes into his debut, the Brazilian directed a 30-yard shot fractionally wide of a post, saw a theatrical penalty appeal turned down and drove a free kick into Everton's wall.

His colleagues had boasted only a handful of shots on target throughout, but Robson hopes for some collective sock-pulling at West Ham on Saturday. "Juninho is back on Thursday and, starting from next week, there are going to be no more excuses for losing," Robson said.

With a tricky run-in against relegation, featuring fixtures against Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa, there had better not be.

MIDDLESBROUGH 0 Walsh; Cox, Barron, Whyte, Fleming; Kavanagh (Branco 80min), Mustoe, Moore; Hignett (Hendrie 80min), Barmby, Fjortoft.

EVERTON 2 (Grant 28, Hinchcliffe 45 pen) Southall; O'Connor, Watson, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe; Kanchelskis, Grant, Parkinson, Ebbrell; Stuart, Ferguson. Booked: O'Connor (25min); Unsworth (62min); Parkinson (71min).

Branco does enough to whet the appetite

By Ivo Tennant, The Times

THE last competitive match that Branco had played in had taken place three months ago. Now, he was in a foreign country, an alien climate, a bewildering culture, representing a club which, for all he knew, had not existed before Juninho arrived. He was fit enough only to pad around the pitch for ten minutes at half-pace, and yet still looked considerably more accomplished than anybody else.

He is, of course. Branco, who flew in to Teesside three days before this match, has 83 Brazil caps to his snappy name, and would have won more during the past two years had his country not looked to try out numerous younger players. He can perform at left back, centre back or, as he did on Saturday as a substitute, in midfield.

Bryan Robson, his manager, ultimately had little choice in the matter of where to play him. Middlesbrough were being beaten ­ and soundly. Branco, 31, is heavier as well as older than Juninho, his compatriot, but he has at least had a personal trainer at his disposal over the past two months. Better for Robson to have taken a chance with him in midfield from the outset than to bring him on with the match lost.

There was still quite a bit to enjoy. A loose ball was driven a foot wide before Southall moved, a smart backheel dumbfounded his new colleagues as much as the opposition. Once, Branco sidestepped a committed defender and tumbled over in the Everton penalty area, a mite too theatrically for the referee. What will he do over a full 90 minutes? He and Juninho will be reunited at Upton Park on Saturday, and there will be a crowd to watch them, for sure.

Let us hope that it will be an appreciative one, for Branco, given his age, is not likely to be in England for long. It will be all too brief a stay if Middlesbrough continue their alarming spiral. Their last victory in the FA Carling Premiership ­ over West Ham United ­ was before Christmas. They have been defeated nine times in their past ten league matches. The Endsleigh Insurance League beckons, and it is not the place to finish up in if you are more accustomed to a World Cup final.

Branco was hardly welcomed by Everton's supporters, which was only to be expected, but the reception, if that is the right word, given to Kanchelskis by Middlesbrough's followers was appalling. Was it only because he turned down their club in favour of Everton? A fanzine even came up with the theory that he had bought a house of Teesside and been fitted out for shirt size before opting for Merseyside.

Here, then, was another example of a lack of respect towards the visiting top player, let alone enjoyment of his abilities. He is foreign, he is top-class, he is on the wrong side, therefore he will be abused. This attitude is prevalent in most sports, although it has become worse since Peter Thomson, the Australian golfer, realised with incredulity 25 years ago that crowds in the United States were cheering when his ball landed in a bunker. "This kind of alien reaction is something that we, as performers, must now accept," he said then.

Kanchelskis tolerated it. What was more, the balance and control that he possesses in abundance brought about Everton's second goal, a minute before half-time. Three defenders pursued him in vain, and at least one of them, Fleming, brought him down. Hinchcliffe scored with the ensuing penalty to add to Grant's volley midway through the first half.

Middlesbrough, with five players suspended and in need of Robson's presence, passed the ball pleasingly enough at times. Fjortoft had two clear chances, once clipping the bar and then driving against Southall's legs, but they lacked the element of the unexpected that Brazilians can, and do, provide.

Next Match: Everton v Coventry City

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