ROSS HITS A TREBLE TO RUIN BORO’S PUSH FOR PROMOTION
Play-offs beckon for Boro after loss
MIDDLESBROUGH fans sang ‘we’re going to Wembley’ at the final whistle as a clear indication that Fulham had well and truly put the blocks on Teesside’s automatic promotion dreams.
Boro went down fighting at Craven Cottage in a desperate attempt to clinch the victory that would have kept their automatic hopes burning bright.
Now Bournemouth, with their better goal difference, will join Watford if they can beat Bolton on Monday and, after leaving Craven Cottage on the wrong end of a 4-3 thriller, there was a sense Middlesbrough are almost starting to plan for the play-offs already.
Middlesbrough, who had George Friend sent off in the build up to Fulham’s third, had threatened to leave London with at least a point.
But then Ross McCormack made the most of Aitor Karanka’s decision to send up goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos for a late corner to complete his hat-trick in stoppage-time to seal a sensational 4-3 win and the points.
The stage was set for McCormack, a former Middlesbrough target, to hit the winner after a second half full of drama, which was a far cry from a first half in which the promotion chasers never looked like a side which won at Norwich eight days earlier.
Karanka, whose side were backed by more than 4,000 away fans, said: “We did everything we could during the week and I don’t know what happened first half, it was like we played for nothing. It’s difficult to understand.
“The second half was very good. The first half was embarrassing. The support we had was amazing. I just can’t understand.”
Had Konstantopoulos stayed in goal rather than gone bursting up field then Boro would have been second this morning.
But Karanka explained: “I thought we needed to win the game. I didn’t think one point was enough, I told Dimi to go up for the corner. We will keep going, anything can still happen in the Championship.”
Michael Turner had headed Fulham ahead just before halftime but it was after the restart when things really got going.
The first of McCormack’s two penalties arrived nine minutes after half-time when Daniel Ayala shoved the forward over in the box.
That prompted Karanka to throw on Kike, Adam Forshaw and Adam Reach just after the hour and within two minutes the latter had pulled one back. However, Friend then brought down Hugo Rodallega in the area and as the last man received the card and McCormack restored a twogoal advantage.
Middlesbrough showed the fight and desire that should have been on show in the first half to somehow grab another goal when Ayala nodded in Albert Adomah’s cross 17 minutes from time.
And then the Boro contingent went crazy when Kike glanced a lovely header beyond goalkeep-
er Marcus Bettinelli to raise hope of something even more for Middlesbrough.
Grant Leadbitter had a couple of long-range efforts thwarted and Middlesbrough earned a late, late corner.
Konstantopoulos - who had made two stunning saves earlier in the game - was waved up by Karanka, the corner broke down and Fulham attacked.
The Greek shot-stopper managed to get back in to his box just in time for McCormack to round him and grab his hat-trick.
Fulham boss Kit Symonns, whose side were guaranteed Championship football beforehand, had sympathy for his opposite number.
Symons said: “It was a rollercoaster of a game.
It was a good performance in the end and with the pressure of us it was a chance to give something to cheer about to the fans in the last home game of the season.
“The risks are always there as a football manager and Aitor took a chance. Middlesbrough are a top side and these are the decisions they have to take when they are in the position they are inn at this stage.”
SPOT ON: Fulham’s Ross McCormack scores their third – and his second – goal from the penalty spot
GUTTED: Patrick Bamford dejected at end