What better way to warm up for the weekend's game than remembering classic victories? Fortunately, there is healthy choice of Boro successes against Manchester United to select from and we start with a FA Cup 4th round tie from 2001/2002.
Boro 2 (Whelan 85, Campbell 89) Manchester United 0
The desperate scramble for tickets this week on Teesside is a pleasing contrast to the last time Manchester United visited in the FA Cup. Just over 17,000 attended this stunning victory which came early on a surprise run to the semi-finals of the 2002 FA Cup. Steve McClaren's successes in guiding a hugely limited side to within a sliced own-goal of the final have not perhaps earned enough credit. With current managerial duo Southgate and Cooper manning the defence, Boro grimly defied their attacking ineptitude before the mercurial Laurent Blanc provided the key to opening the defence. That it took almost the full game to crack a backline including two Nevilles and Mickael Silvestre is telling.
McClaren's first season in charge at the Riverside was a real trial. Left an ageing and unbalanced squad by Bryan Robson, McClaren struggled desperately at first. A cruel 4-0 defeat to Arsenal on the opening day, including three goals in the last five minutes, set the tone. Ashley Cole went down very easily (steady on) to earn a penalty and a red card for Ugo Ehiogu. The blend of misfortune and ineptitude left Boro in relegation trouble after Christmas. Given the high prices, live TV coverage and dismal standard of football seen previously, the sparse crowd became understandable.
A glance at the team sheet shows the general lack of quality in the home side, with the exception of a solid defensive unit that was the basis of our fine second half of the season. On one wing lied Allan 'Magic' Johnston. Johnston, previously a Sunderland favourite, arrived earlier that season to a carnival atmosphere reminiscent of Juninho's arrival as fans openly quaffed Vaux lager in the streets. Possibly. Sadly, Johnston failed to live up to the ankle-high expectations of Boro fans during his mercifully brief stay on Teesside. Johnston was often deployed on the left despite being right-footed, presumably because he normally played like a man with his legs on the wrong way round.On the opposite flank, lay the enigmatic and supremely ugly Carlos Marinelli. A Bryan Robson signing from Boca Juniors, Marinelli possessed mesmerising close control, an absymal attitude and the inevitable and ill-deserved 'New Maradona' title. The duo somehow lasted until half-time as Boro grimly refused to leave their own half in a display all too familiar to home fans.
McClaren re-organised Boro into a 3-5-2 in the second hald, aware that playing that poorly again against United would be punished. Inexplicable Old Trafford reject Mark Wilson came into midfield and gangling Irish lunk Jason Gavin slotted in at centre-back. Boro forced their way into the game and an increasingly worried Ferguson threw on Giggs and van Nistelrooy. With the wingers abandoned, Boro were more solid but still struggling to make chances. It took the unlikely combination of Mark Crossley and Laurent Blanc to break the deadlock.
Crossley's goal kick somehow evaded the calamity-prone Frenchman and Noel Whelan, enjoying a surprisingly successful stint up front, clipped the ball past Barthez and gave Boro a late lead. More gallic consternation was to follow. Whelan was withdrawn after receiving an unintended punch in the face from an over-excited fan during the goal celebrations. His replacement was Andy Campbell, a man who makes Carlos Marinelli look like Jude Law. Campbell lasted a bizarre amount of time at the Riverside, as managers focussed on what they no doubt termed his 'genuine pace'. Unfortunately they tended to overlook his equally genuine inability to maintain control of a football. Nevertheless, even Campbell couldn't miss when Dean Windass landed a cross on his forehead. A side containing true giants of the European scene such as Luke Chadwick and Ronnie Wallwork had been humbled by McClaren's clueless, negative cloggers. The magic of the FA Cup and that.
Boro: Crossley, Stockdale, Queudrue, Cooper, Southgate, Greening, Mustoe, Johnston (Gavin), Marinelli (Wilson), Windass, Whelan (Campbell).
Man Utd: Barthez, P Neville, Silvestre, G Neville, Blanc, Wallwork (Giggs), Keane, Butt, Chadwick (van Nistelrooy), Scholes, Solskjaer (Yorke).