Friday, 21 March 2008

Delving Into The Annals: Boro 6 Derby 1

The Class of '97

Derby may be staring demotion from the Premier League down the barrel but it was Boro who were teetering on the brink of catastrophe when the Rams made their first trip to the Riverside. A dismal 3-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday four days earlier had left Boro rooted to the bottom of the table. In contrast, newly promoted Derby were safe in midtable. There was still a mental advantage to fight for, with Boro travelling to the Baseball Ground for the FA Cup quarter-final three days after the league encounter.

It wasn't long before the Derby defence began to creak but they were given an astonishing reprieve when Fabrizio Ravanelli contrived to steer the ball wide when presented with an open goal ten yards out by Mikkel Beck. Its suprising Wendy didn't take the rare opportunity to give Rav a fully merited bollocking.

Still, the White Feather's blushes were spared soon after by the calamitous Derby keeper Russell Hoult. Vladimir Kinder cut in from the left flank and hit a speculative shot, which bounced three times and stopped to wipe its feet on the way to the bottom. Hoult gave the ball the kind of cursory glance passers-by might use on encountering a drunken tramp.

Derby might have equalised early in the second half when Mark Schwarzer made a smart stop at the feet of Dean Sturridge. Given how quickly his career evaporated afterwards, its perverse to think Sturridge was once viewed as one of England's most promising strikers, linked with a move to Arsenal. Although I suppose it should be remembered the era of Chris Kiwomya and Glenn Helder was barely over at this point.

Hoult soon settled any Boro nerves. Wandering idly in the penalty area, he remained oblivous to the incoming Ravanelli until it was too late, able only to dive over Rav's shot. When Craig Hignett evaded the Derby defence by cunningly standing still fifteen yards from goal with twenty minutes left, the finish was cool and the floodgates open.

Ravanelli returned the earlier favour by presenting Beck with a chance he couldn't miss - he didn't. Juninho was now taunting Derby's threadbare defence, teasing them with the ball before spiriting it away to a team-mate. A dismal attempt at an offside trap allowed Ravanelli a second. A third goal in four minutes followed, Rav suspiciously offside as he collected Juninho's pass and poked past the hapless Hoult.

There was still time for Derby sub Paul Simpson to curl an exquisite free kick past Schwarzer in injury time. It was no consolation for Jim Smith. Always dangerous at 1-0, they folded in the face of a rampant Boro. Juninho and Ravanelli were truly in their pomp. Even with Hoult ditched, the pair still managed memorable goals as Boro won 2-0 in the ensuing cup tie. For a few weeks, confidence growing after this emphatic win, the great escape seemed on. Progress in the cups was incessant. What could possibly go wrong now?

Boro: Schwarzer, Fleming, Kinder (Cox), Festa, Pearson (Blackmore), Mustoe, Emerson (Stamp), Hignett, Juninho, Ravanelli, Beck. Subs not used: Moore, Roberts.

Goals: Kinder 24, Ravanelli 54, 82, 85, Hignett 70, Beck 81.

Derby: Hoult, Rowett, Powell, Stimac, Laursen (McGrath), Dailly, Carsley (Simpson), van der Laan, Asanovic (Willems), Ward, Sturridge. Subs not used: Flynn, Taylor.

Goal: Simpson 90.

A vague sense of doom

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