McClaren's grand tour just gets better
Middlesbrough 3 Partizan Belgrade 0
Middlesbrough enhanced their chances of turning this season's European adventure into a grand tour by finishing top of their UEFA Cup qualifying group last night.
Steve McClaren's side thereby avoid being paired with a side dropping out from the Champions League in the first round of the knock-out stage in February when they will, instead, face a third-placed UEFA group qualifier.
Early goals for Szilard Nemeth and Joseph-Desiré Job, and a last-minute effort from James Morrison, ensured victory. McClaren's faith with several second stringers was vindicated when three of them combined to score Boro's early opener, Doriva's pass picking out Job before the Cameroon striker's offside-defying through-ball was met by Nemeth who had timed his forward run impeccably.
Nevertheless, with the Slovakian arriving in the area from a wide angle, the failure of Ivica Kralj, Partizan's goalkeeper, to spread himself properly assisted Nemeth in his unleashing of a slightly tame shot which most goalkeepers might have expected to save.
In mitigation Kralj was carrying a knee injury. Indeed, he was eventually replaced by Djorde Pantic five minutes before half-time.
At least Nemeth's opener should have eased the scorer's recent paranoia about his colleagues' perceived failure to give him the ball.
Evidently not a man to harbour grudges, Nemeth swiftly displayed his gratitude to Job by creating Boro's second goal for him. It originated with Franck Queudrue overlapping from left-back and beating his man before cutting in and squaring to Nemeth whose ensuing pass cued Job up for a first-time shot beyond Kralj.
If Boro were slightly lucky to still boast 11 men after Ray Parlour escaped with a booking for what appeared an over-the-top tackle on Nemanja Rnic, so Pierre Boya seemed a little fortunate to see yellow rather than red after elbowing Colin Cooper in the face.
Queudrue's impressively hard but clean tackle on Sasa Ilic almost certainly came between the Partizan captain and a goal.
Although Nemeth spurned a potential hat-trick by missing two sitters, the Serbians highly fluid system at times left McClaren's players looking unsure as to who exactly they should be minding.
Indeed, with Simon Vukcevic threatening in a right-sided attacking role following his half-time introduction and Ilic flashing a half-volley wide, Boro sporadically had reason to be grateful for their two-goal cushion.
Emphasising that those second stringers are pretty good after all Morrison registered Boro's third at the death with a superlative run and angled shot from the edge of the area.
MIDDLESBROUGH:Schwarzer, Reiziger, Cooper, Southgate, Queudrue, Parlour (Morrison 64.00), Doriva, Zenden, Downing, Nemeth, Job. Subs Not Used: Nash, McMahon, Davies, Wilson, Hasselbaink, Viduka. Booked: Parlour, Queudrue. Goals: Nemeth 10, Job 22, Morrison 90.
PARTIZAN BELGRADE:Kralj (Pantic 40.00), Mirkovic, Nenad Brnovic, Boya, Ciric (Vukcevic 46.00), Djordjevic, Emeghara, Tomic, Ilic (Grubjesic 70.00), Rnic, Nadj. Subs Not Used: Bajic, Radovic, Petrovic, Babovic. Booked: Boya.
Referee:Grzegorz Gilewski (Poland).