Play-offs beckon for Boro af­ter loss

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Philip Frankel

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

SPOT ON: Ful­ham’s Ross McCor­mack scores their third – and his sec­ond – goal from the penalty spot

GUT­TED: Pa­trick Bamford de­jected at end

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