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Top day out in Boro, got the train up to Darlington and arrived on-time, but took the wrong exit out of the station - ended up trawling around the worst half of Darlo, through a wedding party and onto the worlds worst carpet shop which promised to carpet my house for 200 without seeing it. He also reckoned the pub we were to meet in was in North Allerton... the bloody inbred.
Got to the pub (which was really near the chuffing station) eventually and tucked into numerous pints of bitter prior to jetting off. GT once again brought a UNICEF food parcel for the list brigade to vanish and Betty arrived after putting his car in Fort Knox.
Caution: If GT has handed out a personalised beer mat to you in the past, then beware, the bloody things are acid backed when wet - one took about half an inch off the table surface... Don't let the kids and animals chew on 'em.
We got to Boro after an unduly long train journey through some cracking countryside (cranes, docks, s***holes) and then were treated to some cool stunt-bus driving as a double-decker attempted to get under a low bridge... crunch - the driver looked very embarrased.
Got into the Riverside stadium (my first time) and it was very much like Pride Park both in location and looks/feel.
I also spotted my new season ticket Eco-Warrior neighbour, who had obviously had another day off from saving the planet to go to Middlesboro, maybe it'll mean a conversation at the City match, but you never can tell - he gave me a sly look and was probably glad that he was sat quite a few rows away.
I was up in the far corner, with the clump that were the mysterious tickets that turned up last thursday and the stewards spent most of the time trying to get a bunch behind me sat down all game, despite the fact that all the seats (some 50 or so) were all empty behind them. Thats when the "we're not sitting down.." chants started and caught on, with loads of people standing up to protest.
First half was blinding, Boro were really s***e (which gave me a lot of delight when my boro supporting mate came in today) and we cruised it, but really should have finished with at least 3 goals advantage. Boro hardly ever troubled us all half. Injuries to Woody and Bakke didn't help, but it was nice to bring Radabe on!
Second half and they came at us and we lost shape (losing Bakke was a blow) and started to look tired. They still rarely troubled our solid defence and we also ought to have extended our lead. Their goal was coming for a few minutes before it went in and set up a nail biting finish that could have been avoided if Jones/Smith/Viduka had finished their good opportunities, but we held firm and were "wordy winners" as DOL might put it.
Meeting Boro's "firm" on the train station, in hindsight I ought to have replied "In Ossett, but it's closed on a Saturday" to his question of "Where's your firm?" - better still was Betty's suggestion that he disclose information about his mothers new conservatory to him, which would have been interesting. Pity he didn't ask Richard Walker :)
And he got it wrong, we turned up much before 10 to 3, since it was quite a long walk from the station to the ground. But we didn't get killed (as he promised) since there were plenty of trains home on a saturday, although most are driven by dwarves (staff shortages at peak saturday times...)
Next up; Coventry on the 9th (I'll be driving to that one) and then Barcelona. Highfield Road then the Nou Camp...
A long trip up to Boro gave us plenty of time to discuss travel arrangements to Barcelona and Milan and utilising the credits we'd built up with various flight companies after aborted trips to Copenhagen last year, the Barca trip was all arranged by the time we got there. Chaos at the turnstiles as membership cards were being checked despite the fact Leeds haven't managed to get them out to half the fans yet - eventually I think they just gave up and let everyone in.
The decision to buy an away season ticket appears vindicated on the basis of this match as I got a perfect seat right at the back well away from the muppet crowd in their Hackett tops, though I could have done without the whinging Northerner next to me, who complained constantly at everything throughout the match. (I.e. "Bloody hell what a fluke," as I was jumping up and down celebrating the 2nd goal). - Not you Gav the bloke the other side.
For most of the 1st half Boro were struggling to contain us, despite a team deprived off it's most creative players (Kewell, McPhail and Bakke). The 3 strikers seemed to be able to find a lot of space and Bowyer was driving forward to join them whilst Dacourt dominated the midfield. Bowyer shot over from a better chance than the one he scored at and Bridges missed when unmarked at the far post. We were easily worth a two goal lead at half-time.
Second half something of a different story - Boro started to put on some pressure and as DOL stuck with the 3 man attack, it turned into end to end stuff with a goal looking inevitable. However despite the pressure Boro managed few clear chances and after Martyn had made a spectacular save from Ince's header we resumed control again. The last twenty minutes we had numerous 4 on 3 breakaways as Bowyer and Harte continued to join the attack but never found the right pass to finish the game off. Nonetheless we nearly scored a few times, a good Viduka run followed by a poor cross, a Viduka header wide from a virtually open goal, a weak shot from Smith and a howitzer from Jones that was tipped over all went close. So when Boro did get a scappy goal from Stamp with 10 minutes left it was somewhat against the run of play. DOL then brought on Mills but not for a striker but for the struggling Jones, despite still having 3 men up we weren't put under too much pressure by Boro and their frustration was illustrated by a blatant dive from Whelan that angered Martyn and a petulant elbow from Karembeu on Smith near the end.
The final whistle brought the bizarre site of DOL arguing with Dacourt for a long time in the centre circle. Not sure what it was about as Dacourt was excellent all game - even a very risky back-heel near our penalty area came off. For once at Boro no trouble outside getting back to the coaches, though this may have been due to the pissing rain and the fact a lot of them had left long before the end. (Obviously to wait for Betty and Martyn at the station). Just a 3 hour trip cramped into the minibus left to endure and back home to book the branch on some flights to Milan - Buzz looks the cheapest option at the moment.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 28/08/2000.
It may be early days yet but the pall of discontent engulfing the Riverside is already as sulphurous as the chemical works looming on the skyline.
If this is Bryan Robson's make-or-break season, the fault lines were there for all to see on Saturday. And as the locals traipsed away through the puddles and the labyrinth of murky underpasses that surround this most bleak of settings, the air was crackling with talk of mutiny.
"Robson out" had reverberated around the stadium as his team lurched to their first defeat of the season. That turned out to be a spot of mischief-making from the visiting fans but the way the home supporters responded with applause, plus the bile that spewed forth at the final whistle, means Robson should be worried, very worried.
Copy from The Independent of 27/08/2000.
Even with whistleblowing spy David Shayler watching, it looked as if it were an official secret to Middlesbrough how they could defeat Leeds. It surely didn't need MI6 to tell them that it is not advisable to give Lee Bowyer the run of the midfield, as they did in the first half, and that it is wise to watch Alan Smith, the country's hottest striker of the moment, at all times.
Yet Bowyer scored the first, unchallenged by Middlesbrough's sentries and Smith sneaked unprotected beneath their radar to deflect his fifth of the season and take the game beyond the home side's second-half revival."
"I was really disappointed with the way our midfielders started off," said the Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson. "But in the first minute Paul Okon broke his foot and didn't realise. He kept trying to play and it's now a nasty fracture and that's one of the reasons that Bowyer kept running off us early on. But once I sorted it out and got Bowyer tied down, I thought we came right back into the game."
That revival was down to the arrival of Joseph-Désiré Job. Rested after two games which had taken Middlesbrough to the top of the table as Robson reverted to his forceful but fancy-free strike force of Brian Deane and Hamilton Ricard, the Cameroonian came on in the 38th minute with the key. He changed Boro's formation and nearly their fortunes as well.
"But only a Martian would say we didn't deserve to win," said the Leeds manager David O'Learly, who was left counting even more injuries on the bus home as both Jonathan Woodgate and Eirik Bakke hobbled off before the game was 25 minutes old. "We should have had it wrapped up in the first half and even though we didn't play well in the second we still had good chances."
The last four games between the sides had failed to produce a goal but Leeds had two within the first 12 minutes. A sixth-minute lightning quick deep free kick was rapidly moved on by Michael Bridges to Bowyer who, from 18 yards, fired low and hard into the right-hand corner.
Bowyer's finish was clinical, although Middlesbrough gave him plenty of time to wash down, scrub up and don his surgeon's gown before slicing it home. Similarly, six minutes later when Olivier Dacourt advanced Middlesbrough's defence stood back so far that when he shot, Smith was closest to him. The ball deflected off Smith, wrong-footing goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and the young striker was quick to claim his fifth goal in four games.
Despite the two early enforced changes, Leeds pressed on with Bridges twinkle-toed and dangerous around the box. In the 29th minute, he exchanged a stunning pass with Bowyer but the midfielder drifted the ball high and wide.
It was Job's running between the less mobile Deane and Ricard that nearly turned the second half. He stretched Lucas Radebe to the full and provided a useful target for Christian Karembeu. Suddenly Leeds' nerve-ends were jangling.
In the 67th minute, Job drew a flying save from Nigel Martyn the goalkeeper's first heartbeat-raising action.
With 10 minutes remaining, Steve Vickers knocked down, Gary Pallister laid off and Phil Stamp swept home to give Middlesbrough hope, especially when in the 86th minute Martyn spilled Job's courageous shot. However, Michael Duberry cleared up before Deane could turn and anyhow Mark Viduka should have made all arguments academic in the 84th minute when he missed an open goal from Bowyer's corner.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 27/08/2000.
The talk on Teesside yesterday was of intrigue and dirty-dealing by foreign agents. But enough of the Christian Ziege transfer. What about David Shayler? - the MI5 officer who considered missing Middlesbrough as a major drawback to his self-imposed exile in France. He may no longer regard it as such a sacrifice.
Shayler, back in Britain and charged under the Official Secrets Act, returned to the Riverside Stadium to witness a Middlesbrough performance that must have left him substantially more shaken than stirred.
The first hour exposed a huge gulf between Leeds and the team that started the game at the top of a premature Premiership table.
And, while fatigue eventually set in for Leeds after their midweek trip to Germany, Middlesbrough - without the injured Alen Boksic - didn't possess the midfield ingenuity or forward strength required to take advantage.
Copy from SportLive of 26/08/2000.
SportLive is no longer operational. Should it return to the web, this report will be removed and the link restored.
David Shayler must have wished he had stayed in France after this poor display from his heroes.
A supreme show of power from Leeds' young pretenders, until they seemed to lose steam during the final 20 minutes, must have left the Boro season ticket holder and former MI5 operative dreaming of a leafy Paris, and not an overcast Riverside.
Even a deserved consolation from substitute Phil Stamp eight minutes from time failed to paper over the cracks which Leeds so cruelly exposed in the first half.
It is no secret Bryan Robson still needs to strengthen certain areas of his team.
From the first moments David O'Leary's men demonstrated a larger appetite for the challenge as well as more all-round class and within 12 minutes the visitors, even after their victorious midweek exertions in Europe, were two up and seemingly coasting.
They showed no hangover from their trip to Munich and if anything seemed uplifted even more by that experience.
Goals from Lee Bowyer, a fine low drive from the edge of the box in six minutes, and Alan Smith's third in the league, in the 12th minute, after an Oliver Dacourt shot deflected off the ever-confident star, decided the outcome almost before the Leeds stragglers had sat down in their seats.
With the honourable exception of France international midfielder Christian Karembeu the home side were in total disarray early on, and seemingly unable to get near their opponents.
Home manager Bryan Robson said before the opening fixture, just over a week ago that the first three games would help decide in his mind how the season would go.
On this latest evidence the Boro boss has some worrying times ahead.
Once again the Riverside public had to do without Croatian striker Alen Boksic who is still suffering from a slight groin strain - and what a miss his absence proved to be.
Robson decided to rest Cameroon striker Joseph-Desire Job after fine performances from the former Lens star in the club's opening two matches of the Premiership season. Some reward for the young forward who has turned down the chance to represent his country in the Olympics to play for his club.
Only Karembeu looked close enough to the rampaging Leeds midfield to disrupt their bright, purposeful football which simply threatened to overrun the home defence.
And even when the home side broke out they were too often guilty of leaving a huge gap, which they rarely bridged, between midfield and their two attackers, namely Brian Deane and Hamilton Ricard.
It really was an embarrassing first half as the visitors, with Bowyer and Dacourt outstanding, created chance after chance.
If there is any criticism of United at all it was that Bowyer was guilty of being too carefree as the midfielder wasted a couple of golden opportunities before the half hour.
The rest of this encounter went as expected. The home side came out all huff and plenty of puff at the restart, but rarely troubled the visitors in the heart of the penalty box until late on when Job inspired a late revival.
And during those late stages Boro with an ounce more luck could well have snatched an equaliser. But they failed to lift the spirits of a crowd which was 4,000 below capacity.
With Ince playing a more influential role Middlesbrough at least pushed the ever-so-confident United back a little, however there was always the nagging belief the Champions League qualifiers could up a gear if need be.
The quicker Boksic's injury recovers the sooner Boro can build on his brilliance of the opening day as, on this evidence, they are light years behind in attacking quality and sheer class without him. At the moment one man seems to make a team. Leeds were just too good.
Copy from Electronic Telegraph of 27/08/2000.
MIDDLESBROUGH FANS are a realistic lot who knew that their team's reign at the top of the table was likely to be measured in days rather than weeks. But they could not have expected their side to be so comprehensively taken apart that on the long trek back to town from the Riverside Stadium, many of them were wondering how many points it would take to stay up.
Instead of listening for the results of the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, whom they might fancifully have imagined as their championship rivals, most Boro fans were wondering how Bradford and Coventry had faired. And though it is early days, as Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson warned those getting excited about being top of the league, his latest side look as though they will need a lot of bedding down.
Robson, never one to hunt for the last piece of the puzzle when he can go out and buy a whole new jigsaw, has spent another summer signing cheques in search of a team.
And he is still hoping to persuade Steve McManaman to swap Real Madrid for the Riverside, chief executive Keith Lamb confirming: "We've agreed a fee with Real Madrid but the next move is down to Steve."
He might be more excited by a call from Leeds, who certainly now believe in their title credentials, keeping the Premiership's only 100 per cent record intact. You have to marvel at the spirit of their young team, as well as wondering what on earth it will take to dampen their enthusiasm and resolve. David O'Leary can certainly be satisfied with this performance.
Two of their star players have been helping the police with their inquiries on and off for the past year with the threat of a trial over serious offences; on Wednesday, the team survived a sometimes harrowing night in Germany against Munich 1860; and on the eve of this match, they discovered they must make an emotional return to Turkey in the Champions League proper, as well as taking on that little Spanish club, Barcelona.
Yet they began in as carefree a manner as if this were an exhibition match, which in some respects it was, though there was no mistaking the serious intent with which they took a 2-0 lead in 11 minutes. It should have been three inside the half hour, Lee Bowyer inexplicably shooting wide and high after Michael Bridges had found him free in the box.
At least Bowyer had splendidly found the target in the sixth minute, ending a dismal run of four goalless draws between these teams. Bowyer wheeled off in delight past the Middlesbrough fans, cupping a hand to his ear in a mocking plea for the sounds of adulation, knowing that he was only likely to catch abuse.
Alan Smith was credited with the second, even though the ball simply brushed his body on the way to goal from Oliver Dacourt's boot.
But if there was a moment that defined the will of this Leeds side it was when Jonathan Woodgate, lying injured just outside his own box, spotted Hamilton Ricard passing by to collect the ball and forced himself up to make the challenge.
Having made a successful tackle, Woodgate instantly fell back down in obvious pain and five minutes later, had to be substituted. But it was a personal price he was prepared to pay. He had cleared the danger for his team, possibly won them the match with his bravery, and his 22 minutes of action had been worthwhile.
Leeds also lost Erik Bakke inside the first 20 minutes and then Bakke's replacement, Matthew Jones, had to be taken off injured. But none of this affected their rhythm.
Boro, who improved slightly in the second half and scored through substitute Philip Stamp, then had a chance to snatch a late winner that their performance barely merited.
With injury time approaching, Hamilton Ricard missed his opportunity when Nigel Martyn spilled his shot. Boro can only hope that McManaman does not see a video of this match.
They must also wonder whether former player Paul Gascoigne was joking in his good luck message to the players which concluded: "Missing you loads!!!! (Ha! Ha! Ha!)".
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 28/08/2000.
THE highest standards are always difficult to attain in life, largely because once they are set they must constantly be maintained. Slips show.
One wonders, then, just how lofty are the standards manager David O'Leary levels for himself and those around him.
They have to be very high indeed for him to be able to drop his captain, set the Bells of Shannon ringing in the ears of a player who, in thousands of other eyes, has played a blinder and is so convincing in his insistence that the Premiership and not the Champions League is what really matters that there is not the faintest hint of a hangover from the giddiness of current European affairs.
With Munich conquered and both Barcelona and AC Milan looming large on the horizon, the prospect of a trip up a rain-lashed A1 to the murky morasses of Middlesbrough could have been, well, distracting.
Not a bit of it.
"Just ask the players how I realigned their thoughts," said O'Leary. "I have had plenty to say on that since Wednesday night. Nobody is under any misapprehensions that the Premiership is what we are all about. The Champions League is the icing on the cake and, given that it will take a miracle for us to have any further interest after the first group stage in November, going for the Premiership title will consume our entire season.
"Lucas Radebe was on the bench because of the good form shown by Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Duberry as a central defensive pairing in Munich. Simple as that."
His "little chat" with Olivier Dacourt was fully explained. "It was only his second Premiership outing for us and there are one or two areas of his game which need a little refinement."
With such crystal clarity had these thoughts been expounded to his charges that they were two goals to the good inside 12 minutes and proceeded, with Lee Bowyer dictatorial and in unstoppable form, to run Boro ragged.
A late Phil Stamp goal had Leeds clinging on for the last ten minutes to three points which should have been franked and banked by half time.
We've all seen it many times before: a team is in cruise control, then the ship lists and the battle is for steadiness before it goes under.
Leeds, at times managing a bit of a swagger, were in a different parish to a subdued and over-casual Boro, and with maximum points from two games look well set for a terrific Premiership campaign.
Boro's crawl was partially explained by manager Bryan Robson, who revealed that midfield kingpin Paul Okon broke his foot in the very first minute of the game.
"He should have told me earlier," said Robson. "Lee Bowyer was running midfield and now we know why."
Said O'Leary: "You would have to come from Mars if you believed anything other than we deserved to win this one. Tiredness seeped in following our European trip and that, allied to injuries, put us in danger of throwing away maximum points.
"But we held on well and deservedly won the game."
Boro began the afternoon sitting proudly on top of the Premiership and, with Leeds the only side in the league with a 100 per cent record, something had to give. It was soon apparent which way it would go.
But United were ahead after only six minutes when quick-thinking Bridges spotted Lee Bowyer on the overlap. His first time touch was smashed into the bottom corner from 20 yards by a determined-looking Bowyer who, in this fixture last season, had a first-minute strike controversially ruled out.
Within 12 minutes Leeds were two up when Dacourt authoritatively gained possession, steamed forward and unleashed a drive which took an unstoppable deflection from Smith, who was swift to claim his fifth goal in an astonishing start to his campaign.
Leeds were rampant now and, when Pallister bundled over Viduka, Michael Bridges almost made Boro pay with a fine shot which Schwarzer saved at full stretch.
Bakke, struggling with his injury, limped out of the action after 18 minutes to be replaced by Matthew Jones, and five minutes later Radebe was off the bench to replace an in-pain Woodgate.
Jones' speculative shot from 30 yards had Schwarzer in a degree of trouble and he tipped it round the post at the last second, moments after Paul Okon had briefly raised home hopes with a fine drive which nestled in the side netting.
Harte was way too high with his direct free kick on 27 minutes, but Leeds were well in control and should have made it three a minute later when Bridges again cleverly picked out Bowyer only for his close-range shot to sail over with the goal at his mercy.
Boro had to do something and Cameroon international Joseph Desire Job replaced Keith O'Neill seven minutes before the break.
Jones picked out Kelly with a spectacular crossfield pass to set up another period of Leeds possession in which Dacourt tried his luck with a direct free kick which drifted over.
Boro's lazy, lackadaisical approach was typified by Karembeu who, with his side 2-0 down at home, took an eternity to amble over to the far side of the park to take a corner.
And Ricard's version of creativity was to hoof a hopeless shot high into the stand which saw him immediately substituted in favour of Noel Whelan.
Duberry, having a fine game, made three telling interventions in the space of a minute before Viduka cleverly won a corner from which Bridges made Schwarzer pull out all the stops.
Boro finally got their act together ten minutes from time. Substitute Stamp was first to react when Pallister's knock-back initiated a goalmouth scramble, poking in from close range. goals to the good inside 12 minutes and proceeded, with Lee Bowyer dictatorial and in unstoppable form, to run Boro ragged.