Dudek error hands Liverpool first defeat

Liverpool were made to pay for their lack of ambition here when a rare mistake by Jerzy Dudek with nine minutes remaining handed Middlesbrough their most celebrated victory under the management of Steve McClaren.

It meant that the last unbeaten record in the senior English game had gone, but the Merseysiders had only themselves to blame. The game appeared to be heading towards a decidedly dreary goalless draw when Szilard Nemeth hoisted the ball into the penalty area.

It looked a straightforward catch for Dudek, but under pressure from substitute Alen Boksic he dropped the ball as he fell to the ground, possibly colliding with a team-mate, and Gareth Southgate had a simple tap-in. Boksic, for once not troubled by illness or injury, will no doubt claim an assist; he has to have something to show for his £60,000-a-week salary.

If either side deserved to win this game Middlesbrough certainly did but the way Liverpool are set up these days, particularly away from home, a side with anything about them are obliged to attack. Liverpool were aiming for a personal Premiership best of eight consecutive victories but if it was to come, it would be more by accident than anything else - just as Middlesbrough's win was.

McClaren's side must have thought their quota of chances had gone when Massimo Maccarone was adjudged to be in an offside position when he lashed in a cross from Geremi. And when Dudek brilliantly pushed away a fierce left-footer by Nemeth a few minutes later, one thing seemed certain: a Middlesbrough goal would not come cheaply. Wrong.

Yet for all the oohs and aahs from a capacity home crowd, there was barely a suggestion early on that Middlesbrough might succeed where all others in England had failed so far this season.

Liverpool may not be the prettiest team in the country but they are devilishly difficult to break down. Against defences as compact as theirs chances are few, and when they come have to be taken.

Middlesbrough's only scoring opportunity in the first half arrived five minutes before the break and was scandalously refused. Jonathan Greening's neat footwork had been one of the few highlights and when he found the space for a measured cross, the unmarked Geremi was afforded the formality of a simple nod-in at the far post, having done hard part by out-jumping John Arne Riise. Inexplicably, he headed wide.

Profligacy had cost Middlesbrough in the North-East derby earlier in the week at St James' Park and they could ill afford to be as wanton again, particularly against a side like Liverpool. McClaren had observed in his programme notes that his side lacked Premiership guile and only four of his players were truly experienced in the English league.

Know-how is what Liverpool have steadily developed under Gerard Houllier, although Sir Alex Ferguson may have had a point - at least in respect of Liverpool - when he said Arsenal and Liverpool put strength and pace ahead of skill and technique.

With Michael Owen operating on his own up front, even if speedily supported from midfield by Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy, Liverpool make for some mundane viewing.

Not surprisingly, their best chance was made and created by Owen when he came off Gareth Southgate to hook the ball wide after 22 minutes.

Match details

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Parnaby, Ehiogu, Southgate, Vidmar, Geremi, Boateng, Job, Greening, Maccarone (Boksic 70), Nemeth (Wilkshire 86).
Subs Not Used: Crossley, Cooper, Whelan.
Booked: Boksic.
Goals: Southgate 82.

Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Traore, Hyypia, Riise, Diao, Gerrard (Smicer 68), Hamann, Murphy (Baros 86), Heskey, Owen.
Subs Not Used: Babbel, Kirkland, Biscan.

Att: 34,747
Ref: M Halsey (Lancashire).

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