Tuesday, 15 January 2002
F.A. Cup - 3 R
Riverside Stadium
Attendance: 9,687
Ref: Steve Bennett
Noel Whelan, Kenny Cunningham (OG)
2 (1) - (0) 0
Mark Crossley
Robbie Stockdale
Gianluca Festa
Gareth Southgate
Frank Queudrue
Paul Ince
Carlos Marinelli
Yellow 49m Subbed 78m
Robbie Mustoe
Phil Stamp
Subbed 69m
Szilárd Németh
Subbed 78m
Noel Whelan
Goal 3m Yellow 33m
Jonathan Greening
Sub (23 78m)23
Bradley Jones
Allan Johnston
Sub (24 69m)24
Dean Windass
Sub (8 78m)8
Colin Cooper

If Diego Forlan, a footballer of South American talent and temperament, harbours a sense of indignation that Manchester United have apparently lost interest in luring him from Independiente, a chance to take swift retribution awaits Middlesbrough's imminent £6.9m import.

By disposing of Wimbledon in a gruelling replay last night Steve McClaren's malfunctioning side earned a fourth-round tie at home to the Premiership champions on Saturday week, and the word here is that Forlan will be around to make his debut.

As Boro's players accepted the lukewarm appreciation of a sparse 9,687 crowd, the club's chief executive Keith Lamb was in Buenos Aires and has agreed a fee with Independiente for a deal that will be completed before the weekend, provided they can settle the terms of payment.

With Steve Gibson, a hitherto extravagant chairman, enforcing financial constraints on the club, Lamb has submitted an offer that would permit Boro to pay in as many as 18 instalments. However, Independiente's parlous financial position means they are asking for a hefty down payment for a player who, by holding an Italian passport, will not have to go through the tortuous process of applying for a work permit.

With 30 goals in 52 games, the Uruguayan's reputation precedes him and McClaren, desperately in need of fresh blood for an anaemic side, must hope that the striker's arrival would lift the foreboding over Teesside. Vast expanses of red seats around the Riverside last night painted a depressing picture for a club hovering perilously above the relegation quicksand and the manner in which Wimbledon dominated for long spells cannot be entirely overlooked.

The cauldron of apathy - Wimbledon's fans seemed to be lining up in a 4-4-2 formation - belied the prize at stake but, early on at least, it did not seem to have any adverse effect on the home side.

Phil Stamp sounded Boro's intent in the second minute with an audacious volley that deserved better than to ricochet off Ian Feuer's bar and away to safety, but the hosts had to wait only another 60 seconds before breaking the resistance of a side lying 15th in the First Division.

With the inquest still rumbling at the heart of Wimbledon's defence as to how Stamp had been afforded such space, Szilard Nemeth exposed more errant marking with a measured pass to Noel Whelan, whose position would be compromised by Forlan's recruitment, to ghost clear. Wimble- don vainly claimed offside and Whelan slipped a neat shot beyond the advancing Feuer.

Barring a comical header past his own goalkeeper against Coventry last season, it was his first goal at the Riverside in 20 problematic months at the club.

That started a spell of concerted Boro pressure against the side that had eliminated them from the FA Cup and Worthington Cup last season. But Wimbledon finished the first half the stronger and, had it not been for a string of fine saves from Mark Crossley, might have had serious aspirations of causing an upset.

Instead the visitors wasted many opportunities after the interval, the biggest culprit being David Connolly with three wasted chances, including a horrible miss from within the six-yard area. "There was such a big prize to be won, there was some pressure on us," said McClaren. "I think that's why we looked a bit nervous at times."

Middlesbrough, indeed, seldom threatened throughout the second half and a familiar irritation was descending until Allan Johnston, a 69th-minute replacement for Stamp, crossed from the left nine minutes from time.

Trond Andersen, attempting to clear, touched the ball against his team-mate Kenny Cunningham, the two Wimbledon players succeeding only in diverting the ball past Feuer, leaving Middlesbrough to look forward to United. "I just hope we don't get 9,000," said McClaren.