Having exited one cup competition at the semi-final stage over the weekend, Middlesbrough FC will be desperate to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit as FC Steaua Bucuresti visit the Riverside stadium on Thursday night. The Romanian club are in good form, however, having not conceded a goal in winning their last three matches.
Middlesbrough FC 0-1 West Ham United FC
Middlesbrough's hopes of a cup double were ended at Villa Park, Birmingham on Sunday as West Ham reached the FA Cup final thanks to Marlon Harewood's late strike. The forward collected a flick-on from Dean Ashton 12 minutes from time and held off Gareth Southgate to beat Middlesbrough's substitute goalkeeper Brad Jones at the near post. The northeast team created chances throughout, Franck Queudrue heading over a first-half corner, although they lost goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to a suspected fractured cheekbone shortly before half-time. After Harewood's goal, Queudrue had a free-kick saved by Shaka Hislop while Chris Riggott dragged a shot wide from inside the penalty area in the final minute of added time.
"We had plenty of clear-cut chances but we didn't take them and that's why we lost," said manager Steve McClaren, who was able to welcome back captain Southgate after an ankle injury although Australian international Mark Viduka remained sidelined with a thigh problem and Lee Cattermole (ankle), Gaizka Mendieta (foot), Emanuel Pogatetz (head) and Tony McMahon (knee) were all still absent. "It's an FA Cup semi-final and sometimes the best team doesn't win. We have to pick ourselves up. We've got to come back knowing we don't want to feel like this on Thursday. The players know how much it hurts to lose a semi-final. They don't want to feel like that again and nor do I."
FC Steaua Bucuresti 3-0 FC Farul Constanta
Steaua coach Cosmin Olaroiu opted to shuffle his pack ahead of Thursday's trip to England, resting six players for Saturday's match against Farul. Defenders George Ogararu, Sorin Ghionea and Petre Marin, midfielders Sorin Paraschiv - suspended for the second leg - and Gabriel Bostina and striker Daniel Oprita all dropped to the bench. Steaua were unable to fashion a first-half breakthrough, so Oprita, Paraschiv and Ogararu were introduced in the second period as the hosts gained control. Banel Nicolita - another banned for the Middlesbrough match - converted Vasilica Cristocea's pass two minutes after the break, then created a second goal for Nicolae Dica ten minutes later. Daniel Balan supplied Nicolita to score his second and Steaua's third 13 minutes from time, keeping Steaua ahead of title rivals FC Dinamo 1848 Bucuresti and AFC Rapid Bucuresti on goal difference. All three sides have 46 points, although Steaua have played two games fewer.
"It was a well-deserved victory which boosts our morale for Thursday, which will be the match of all our careers," said general manager Mihai Stoica. The win was Steaua's third consecutive success capped by a clean sheet, following last weekend's 1-0 defeat of FC Politehnica Iasi and the first-leg triumph over Middlesbrough. Olaroiu had said that his main concern was making sure his players avoided injury, and they successfully negotiated the Farul fixture, even if defender Dorin Goian is suffering from muscle problems.
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