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Evans slams sloppy Liverpool

Bryan Robson, under every bit as much pressure as claimed his north-east rival Kevin Keegan today, lifted the yoke with a sensational Coca-Cola Cup win over Liverpool that puts Middlesbrough within sight of Wembley and Europe.

And it was a couple of down-to-earth Englishmen who may just have transformed the Riverside's season, Craig Hignett and Steve Vickers gunning down the five-times winners to reach the last four. Former Anfield apprentice Hignett, fined by Robson when he recklessly got himself sent off at 5-0 up against Chester at the weekend, stunned Roy Evans' patched-up side when he pounced on a terrible mistake by jittery David James. Then Vickers, who spent most his career on Merseyside with Tranmere, cut off Liverpool's route to an eighth final when he hammered in a Hignett corner in the 26th minute.

Steve McManaman threw the visitors a 64th-minute lifeline as Boro ran out of steam, but they held on to give the north east a huge lift on a bewildering day.

It was just what Robson needed in his winter of discontent, the prospect of Boro's first genuine Wembley appearance, eclipsing their appearance in the Zenith Data Cup against Chelsea.

Keegan's departure 40 miles up the A19 must have stoked the sour breath of failure on the young manager's neck. His own £21million outlay has revived this football hot-bed but Boro's Premiership slump, with just one win in 15, and rows with Brazilian star Emerson had detracted from his cup successes.

No wonder then that this former England skipper described the quarter-final as "the biggest game for the club since my arrival".

Less than a month ago Robbie Fowler's foursome had thumped the Teessiders 5-1 at Anfield, but they knew they would never have a better chance for revenge as Evans' side went into action without John Barnes, Neil Ruddock and Jamie Redknapp, all hamstring victims, while Stan Collymore had 'flu.

Rob Jones made his first start since the FA Cup final and the makeshift Merseysiders were soon reeling as Boro hustled and bustled, the £16 million trio of Juninho, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli outplaying Liverpool at their own first-touch passing game. Evans had criticised his team at Chelsea for a certain sloppiness in their passing, and the Anfield boss must have been having kittens the way they allowed themselves to be pressed into errors.

Ravanelli, who scored a hat-trick on his Premiership debut in the 3-3 draw on the opening day of the season against Liverpool in August, latched onto a wild clearance by James in the eighth minute but his hurried lob from 30 yards drifted well wide of the exposed goal.
Boro, who have conceded 40 goals in 21 league games, showed signs of uncertainty when they allowed Patrik Berger too much freedom onto Fowler's 13th-minute cross, and though he could not dig the ball out with his back to goal he still laid it on for Jason McAteer on the edge of the area, Gary Walsh saving well.

But within seconds play switched to the other end where James attempted another suicidal clearance, kicking low and short towards Steve McManaman just five yards out of the penalty area. Hignett was on to it in a flash, holding off the England man's desperate attempts to claw possession back and striding on to bury his shot past the embarrassed James.

Liverpool were resorting to shirt-tugging and holding trying to contain the lively Boro attack and in the 26th minute Juninho shrugged off Dominic Matteo but had been slowed sufficiently to gain just a corner. But there was no respite as defender Vickers strode into an acre of slackly-marked space to meet Hignett's cross from the right with a well-directed right-foot half-volley.

Fleming almost opened the door for Liverpool, failing to spot the lurking Fowler when he tapped a short, no-hope back-pass Walsh's way. Fortunately the penalty area pickpocketer was crowded out.

But Boro completed one of their most heartening 45 minutes well on top and might have had a third goal a minute from the break when Neil Cox arrived unheralded at the back post onto another Hignett corner but headed just over.

Emerson nearly made it 3-0 at the start of the second half when he raced clear onto Hignett's pass into the inside-right channel and chipped the advancing James, the effort drifting wide of the empty goal.

But Boro had played at such a pace that they simply could not sustain it and Evans sensed they were tiring, sending on Mark Kennedy for Stig Inge Bjornebye in the 62nd minute.

Within two minutes the gamble paid off as Liverpool stretched Boro on the break, Berger threading in a low cross from the left taken on the slide by a stretched McManaman for his eighth goal of the season.

Boro were now beginning to reel like drunkards and it took Derek Whyte and Vickers combined to illegally halt Fowler on the edge of the box; both Fowler and Berger were blocked from the free-kick.

Evans gave Jamie Carragher his debut in midfield in one last throw but as Liverpool pushed on Ravanelli had the best chance to finish them, pouncing on Wright's mistake but unable to squeeze the ball in from the narrowest of angles.

Liverpool boss Roy Evans slammed his side after they sacrificed the first leg of his attempted fourfold at home and abroad, losing 2-1 at Middlesbrough in tonight's Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final.

Sloppy defending saw the Anfield side 2-0 down inside 27 minutes, and although Steve McManaman's second-half goal inspired a spirited fightback the deficit proved too great to pull back. "You can't give away goals like that against anybody and then hope to claw them back in a quarter-final," said the unhappy Evans, who watched his side concede two goals within 27 minutes. We had a good go in the second half and had a few chances but you can't unsettle yourselves like that. I told them at half-time that it was death-or-glory time - if you don't go out believing in yourselves there's no point going out at all. But you can't wait for the second half you've got to do it from first to last. We didn't pas the ball, we were poor, we kept giving it away in vital positions. Give Middlesbrough their dues, they worked hard against us and closed us down quickly. But going out hurts, especially at this stage where you're not too far away from the prize. But the way we gave goals away and gave them a platform was unprofessional."

Liverpool-born Craig Hignett, who grabbed the first goal after a dreadful mistake by goalkeeper David James, was delighted to score against the club he supported as a boy. "It's always been my ambition to score against Liverpool I was such a fan," said Hignett, who is looking forward to a semi-final clash with Stockport or Southampton. We've beaten Newcastle and Liverpool in the competition so far this season so there's no reason for us to fear anyone. We were hanging on a bit after a great first half but we've hung in there and ground out a win."

Hignett's confidence was echoed by Boro boss Bryan Robson, who claimed: "When I've got my full side out we're a match for anyone. When I've got that side out I know we can do well against anyone."

Copyright - Press Association.

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