Middlesbrough 1 Roma 0
Aiyegbeni Yakubu’s controversial penalty handed Middlesbrough a precious first leg lead to take to Roma next week as they kept their UEFA Cup dream alive.
The 23-year-old Nigerian calmly stroked his 11th-minute spot-kick past keeper Gianluca Curci to send his side to the Olympic Stadium next Wednesday with everything to play for.
However, Luciano Spalletti and his players returned to Italy perhaps knowing they had been beaten by the better side on the night, but fuming at the decision which gave Yakubu his chance to win the match.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink looked to be on his way down before he collided with Gianluca Curci, but the referee’s decision was swift and irreversible.
A disappointing Roma, who had won 11 successive Serie A matches before the weekend, rallied briefly after the break but the Teessiders were good value for their victory and the Italians were subjected to a chorus of “You’re worse than Lazio” by a crowd of 25,354.
Manager Steve McClaren had been at pains to point out the threat posed by a Roma on the counter-attack but in the event, he need not have worried.
The Italians were neat and patient in their build-up play but with strikers Franceso Totti, Vincenzo Montella and Shabani Nonda all having been left behind in the treatment room they were able to muster little penetration with Mancini woefully isolated.
Only once before the break was the Boro rearguard pierced, central defender Philippe Mexes playing a superb ball over the top of Gareth Southgate to pick out Simone Perotta’s run, although the Englishman got back to block the midfielder’s cross.
Instead it was Boro who hit the visitors with pacy attacks deep into their half, the fit-again Stewart Downing in tandem with lone striker Yakubu causing problems for experienced defender Christian Panucci and Gaizka Mendieta, formerly of Roma’s city rivals Lazio, doing a similar job down the right.
The decisive moment of the first half arrived courtesy of Hasselbaink.
Playing in the hole behind Yakubu Mexes and Sammy Kuffour failed to pick him up and with just 11 minutes gone he made the decisive intervention.
Full-back Andrew Davies fed the ball down the line for Mendieta, who left Leandro Cufre in his wake before sliding a pass into Hasselbaink’s path.
Italian Under-21 goalkeeper Curci was quick to leave his line but the striker was there before him and although he looked to start going to ground long before there was any meaningful contact French referee Alain Sars pointed to the spot.
Yakubu was a model of composure as he sauntered up to send Curci the wrong way and spark rapturous celebrations among the Riverside Stadium’s biggest European crowd of the season.
After half-time Lee Cattermole fired a long-range effort wide after 48 minutes but Roma instantly had a better shape and for the first time the Boro defence was stretched.
Hasselbaink blasted a speculative 55th-minute effort high over from 25 yards after Mendieta had expertly chested down a Yakubu cross, but the visitors were dominating.
However, they began to look increasingly vulnerable to the counter-attack as they threw men forward in the search for an equaliser.
Chris Riggott had to cut out a Perotta cross at the near post on the hour and, after Spalletti had introduced 16-year-old Nigerian striker Stefano Okaka after 61 minutes, Mancini whistled a left-foot effort just wide.
Hasselbaink kept Curci on his toes with a shot which reared up off the pitch six minutes later but Mark Schwarzer was called upon to make his first save with 11 minutes remaining when substitute Edgar Alaverez’s deflected cross flew across his six-yard box.
Mendieta should have made it 2-0 after 81 minutes when he was played in by substitute Mark Viduka which virtually his first touch but the Spaniard blazed his shot high over.
Emanuel Pogatetz headed a Downing corner over four minutes from time as a late flurry failed to give the Teessiders a bigger advantage – one they probably deserved even though Schwarzer had to make a smart save from Mancini’s injury-time shot.