Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Mission Accomplished

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Mission Accomplished

Article excerpt

Byline: Philip Tallentire

Battling Boro bravely withstood a spirited onslaught from Skoda Xanthi to book their place in the group stage of the UEFA Cup thanks to last night's goalless draw in Greece.

Steve McClaren's side always held the upper hand in the tie thanks to a gritty 2-0 first leg victory at the Riverside two weeks ago, but an early goal from the home side could have made for a very uncomfortable evening.

Although Xanthi started brightly, inspired by the tricky Brazilian Luciano, Boro defended magnificently with skipper Gareth Southgate in particular playing his part.

Steve McClaren made just one unenforced change to the team badly mauled by Sunderland in last weekend's derby.

Fans' favourite Massimo Maccarone was drafted in to a completely new front pairing alongside Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink after a series of energetic cameos.

The duo replaced injured top scorer Mark Viduka and Yakubu, who was consigned to bench duty.

Brazilian Doriva replaced cup tied compatriot Fabio Rochemback in a makeshift midfield that also boasted the energetic charms of converted full back Franck Queudrue.

If Boro thought they were in for a quiet night, the reception they received when they walked out onto the turf in the compact Skoda Xanthi Arena would have instantly helped them see the error of their ways.

The year-old functional stadium was transformed into an ear-splitting maelstrom of flag-waving intensity by almost 5,000 fanatical Thracians.

Boro were cheered on by around 100 hardy souls and a terrific array of flags, including the famous "Erimus" banner, brought colour to the swathe of empty green seats at the away end.

McClaren will have been relatively satisfied with his side's first half display, which was solid if unspectacular, though the poor state of the pitch did little to help either side's attempts to play football.

Xanthi's fluid formation proved hard to subdue, though it posed little serious threat to the Boro goal.

Luciano looked to be the home side's most dangerous player. He almost created an opening in the third minute when he cut inside onto his left foot and unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the area, which Brad Jones made a hash of punching, but Chris Riggott was on hand to clear the danger. …

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