Tuesday, 08 January 2002
F.A. Cup - 3rd Round
Selhurst Park
Attendance: 6,885
Ref: Steve Bennett
0 (0) - (0) 0
Mark Crossley
Robbie Stockdale
Gianluca Festa
Jason Gavin
Subbed 45
Gareth Southgate
Frank Quedrue
Jonathan Greening
Paul Ince
Yellow 66
Robbie Mustoe
Hamilton Ricard
Subbed 84
Noel Whelan
Subbed 62
Phil Stamp
Sub ((29) 45)(29)
Marlon Beresford
Dean Windass
Sub ((26) 62)(26)
Szilárd Németh
Sub ((19) 84)(19)
Colin Cooper

Perhaps it was the icy temperatures, perhaps the players froze at the prospect of playing Manchester United, but in the end a game of few chances ended in a strangely predictable result. These sides had met in this competition three times before, the first occasion 25 years ago to the day before this, and each tie has gone to a replay, the first game always ending 0-0.

Wimbledon will claim a moral victory, but Middlesbrough so nearly secured a Riverside reunion between Steve McClaren and his former club with a flurry of late and long overdue opportunities. First Trond Andersen was inches from turning the ball into his own net, then from the resulting corner Gareth Southgate volleyed against the bar before Paul Ince headed over.

The sides had barely recovered from being paired again. Wimbledon, after all, knocked Middlesbrough out of both cup competitions last season with narrow victories at this venue, so being drawn together again appeared a coincidence too far. "I think the balls must have been glued together," quipped Terry Burton.

The match created particularly mixed emotions in Wimbledon's Damien Francis, who returned only last month from a knee ligament injury sustained against these same visitors last year. "We've drawn the same team on the same ground in the same competition," he said. "It's a bit spooky."

The midfielder had, however, regained his composure in time to shine in an opening period that Wimbledon dominated - which, given recent history and current form, was not such a great surprise.

But the possibility of a giant-killing had done little to attract wavering fans. Fewer than 6,000 had watched Wimbledon's 3-1 victory in last season's fourth round and not many more were tempted by the prospect of a repeat.

Those that did brave another icy evening would, depending on their allegiance, have been delighted or disappointed at the absence from Boro's line-up of their England international defender and record signing Ugo Ehiogu, their outstanding striker Alen Boksic and Carlos Marinelli, often their creator-in-chief.

Even with those three Middlesbrough have struggled to impress this season. Without them they struggled against a side 15th in the First Division.

The visiting defence was assured in denying their opponents clear sights of goal. Even when they wavered, Gareth Southgate and Paul Ince impressed with last-ditch blocks. But there was little they could do in the 28th minute when, with everyone anticipating a cross, Kevin Cooper's 30-yard shot flew through a crowded penalty area and hit Mark Crossley's left-hand post.

Soon after, Neil Shipperley should surely have scored when found unmarked at the far post but he hurried his volley and blasted over.

While Wimbledon ground out and wasted their chances, Middlesbrough's fearsome front pairing of Noel Whelan and Hamilton Ricard - one goal between them this season - were stranded in front of a midfield five whose advantage over their opponents was purely numerical. After half-time, when Phil Stamp's appearance brought a change to 4-4-2, it was not even that.

Then, in the 51st minute, the visitors created their first chance of note. Jonathan Greening skipped past Darren Holloway and sent in a wicked, dipping centre. Whelan, arriving at pace at the far post with the goal beckoning, fell over.