McClaren wins battle of England suitors

Middlesbrough 4 Charlton 2

Middlesbrough 4 Charlton 2

Middlesbrough’s cup exploits show no sign of abating as they booked their second semi-final place in the space of a week.

After reaching the last four of the UEFA Cup last Thursday with the most astonishing of comebacks to see off Basle, Steve McClaren’s side served up another treat to do likewise in the FA Cup.

This quarter-final replay perhaps lacked the heartstopping drama of their fightback from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 on aggregate against the Swiss, but for entertainment value it was another cracker.

Remarkably, this was Boro’s 22nd cup tie of the season, yet they approached it with the kind of intensity as if it was their first.

That was in no small part to the atmosphere generated inside the Riverside, with the catalyst the 5,250 Charlton fans who had made the long journey north from London.

Sporting t-shirts with the words ’Operation Riverside’ adorning the front - the players doing likewise for the warm-up – it was clear they meant business in attempting to reach their first semi-final for 59 years.

That was apparent inside the opening five minutes as Charlton had their fans out of their seats and almost celebrating the opener with two glorious chances.

The first came after just 60 seconds with Dennis Rommedahl floating a right-wing cross to the far post where Shaun Bartlett stooped low for a diving header that was bundled away by Mark Schwarzer.

Rommedahl was again the creator of the Londoners’ next opportunity, this time dinking a ball in from the left-hand edge of the area.

Bryan Hughes failed to connect with a free header from six yards, and after Matt Holland’s sliced effort, Darren Bent’s sidefoot shot from three yards was superbly blocked by Schwarzer.

After 90 minutes of sterile action at The Valley in the initial tie, it was clear the return had goals in it, with the first arriving in spectacular fashion from Fabio Rochemback in the 11th minute.

Chris Perry’s poor foul on Mark Viduka teed up the Brazilian from 35 yards and he had the Boro supporters rocking with a curled free-kick round a three-man wall, beating Thomas Myhre for pace for his third goal of the season.

But the lead lasted just 75 seconds as the home side fell asleep at the back, allowing Hughes to poke home from 10 yards following a nod down from Shaun Bartlett.

It could have been 2-1 to Charlton less than two minutes later but for a fingertip stop from Schwarzer in turning away a scuffed shot from Bent, with Bartlett firing the rebound high over the bar.

Instead, it was McClaren’s boys who restored their earlier advantage with a move started and finished by James Morrison in front of the Riverside’s best cup crowd this season of 30,248.

The 19-year-old’s initial through pass was flicked on by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink into the area where the ball ricocheted off Mark Viduka and Charlton skipper Hermann Hreidarsson.

It kindly ran to Morrison who coolly slipped his second goal of the season - and first since November 20 – between the advancing Myhre’s legs.

With Boro in full flow, Myhre produced an outstanding save to thwart Boro from taking a 3-1 lead, tipping away at full stretch a goal- bound Hasselbaink header to a delightful Downing cross.

Radostin Kishishev and Viduka traded shots before the break as the action was unrelenting, and it appeared there would be more of the same in the second half.

After just two minutes Hasselbaink brought another superb save from Myhre, that after a 30-yard run that saw him hold off Perry and leave Hreidarsson on the seat of his shorts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the game then went off the boil until three goals in just over four minutes late in the second half.

Boro initially found another gear, and after Downing had shaved the crossbar with a searing 20-yard strike, Hasselbaink opened up a 3-1 cushion in the 73rd minute.

Playing the ball out wide to Morrison, the teenager then set up the striker for a first-time cracker into the bottom right-hand corner for his 16th of the season, and 12th since the turn of the year.

That perhaps signalled the end for Charlton, but inside two minutes they pulled one back, with captain Gareth Southgate the unlucky beneficiary of a ricochet after Schwarzer had blocked at point-blank range from Perry.

But then came the goal of the game and a fitting one to win any cup tie, with Viduka grabbing his 15th this term.

With his back to goal in receiving a through ball from Stuart Parnaby, Viduka twisted and turned his way past Perry and Hreidarsson before despatching an incisive finish past Myhre.

As another nod to the Football Association in terms of taking over from Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager after the World Cup, it was one in the eye for McClaren over Curbishley.

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