CHRIS Riggott had it all mapped out. A nice round of golf, a couple of days’ relaxation and then hopefully launch the mother of all knees-ups by helping Stoke City to the most significant promotion in their history.
What’s that about best-laid plans? Riggott was indeed at the Britannia stadium for yesterday’s party against Leicester, but as nothing more influential than a spectator after proving an unlikely opening goal-scorer as Middlesbrough belatedly secured their Premier League future.
“I’m gutted to miss the Leicester game; anyone in my shoes would be because I wasn’t expecting to come back,” admitted the defender, who was recalled from his loan spell with indecent haste and promptly headed his first top-flight goal for three years before Tuncay Sanli doubled the lead after the break in similar fashion.
A chain of events sparked by a call from manager Gareth Southgate as he prepared to hit the greens on a day off culminated with Riggott ending a six-month absence from the Middlesbrough side.
He added: “It’s been a strange situation. I enjoyed it at Stoke but had to get my head round that I was no longer playing in a big game to get them in the Premier League.”
Riggott’s honesty is matched by that of Portsmouth’s stand-in keeper Jamie Ashdown, when asked if he wished David James a swift recovery from the calf problem that has cast doubt on his appearance in the FA Cup final. “Personally, no,” the 27-year-old revealed with refreshing candour in the largely anodyne world of Premier League football.
He added: “I’m a professional and like everyone else I want to play in the cup final. I’m in the team now and if it carries on, then great.”
Ashdown’s frank observations 12 days before Portsmouth tackle Cardiff will hardly endear him to a rival he claims is prone to be overly moody.
“Off the training ground we have a good relationship and we talk,” he added. “But he knows and he understands that I want to play at Wembley as much as he does.
“He’s one of those people who if it’s not going right in training he will get in a huff,” he added. “It’s quite difficult.”
There is little difficulty, however, for Harry Redknapp in choosing between the pair, provided James proves his fitness for May 17.
“Jamie’s done a good job but David’s the best in the league and I want him back,” the manager insisted. “He’s not 100% fit at the moment and I won’t rush him so we’ll wait and see how it is. I already know what my starting line-up will be for the final.”
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Schwarzer 7, Young 7, Riggott 8, Wheater 7, Pogatetz 7, Boateng 6 (Cattermole 87, 6), Rochemback 7, Arca 6, Downing 7, Tuncay 8, Alves 6 (Aliadiere 61, 5).
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Johnson, Taylor.
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): Ashdown 7, Johnson 5, Campbell 5, Distin 4, Hreidarsson 5, Mvuemba 5, Diarra 6, Diop 4 (Davis 67, 5), Kranjcar 5, Defoe 4, Baros 3 (Nugent 67, 5).
Subs Not Used: Begovic, Lauren, Hughes.
REFEREE: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire) 8: If only all matches could be this easy for the men in black. Mr Walton barely had a contentious decision to make all afternoon.
MATCH RATING: ** That end-of-season feel arrived a week early at the Riverside as Middlesbrough secured their Premier League future by earning a victory without the need to break sweat.
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