By Andrew Haslam at Riverside stadium
Sporting Clube de Portugal produced a devastating display of counterattacking football to take a significant step towards the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, although two late goals revived Middlesbrough FC's hopes.
All the visitors' goals came in the first 20 minutes of the second half, with Pedro Barbosa, Liedson and Roudolphe Douala putting the Portuguese side in complete control. Goals in the last eleven minutes, from substitute Joseph-Désiré Job and Chris Riggott, gave Middlesbrough something to play for in the second leg, although Sporting remain favourites to progress and continue their quest to reach the final at their Estádio José Alvalade home.
Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren was able to welcome back goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and Michael Reiziger after knee and ankle problems respectively, although Ray Parlour's back injury ruled him out so Stuart Parnaby came into midfield in a 3-5-2 formation and 18-year-old striker Danny Graham made his first senior start. Sporting coach José Peseiro kept centre-back Beto and winger Rodrigo Tello on the bench, while Anderson Polga and Custódio missed out altogether.
The home supporters were in fine voice early on but, despite two promising bursts from Stewart Downing, it was the visitors who settled quicker. Liedson and Hugo Viana were particularly influential, and the latter had the first real chance after good work down the left from Douala but headed over.
With Sporting on top, McClaren opted to switch to 4-4-2 and immediately his side looked more comfortable. Downing was the most obvious threat, and his free-kick was dropped by Ricardo under pressure from Franck Queudrue, although the Sporting goalkeeper reacted quickly to palm away from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Sporting served a reminder of their danger ten minutes before half-time as Douala and Liedson almost linked up to good effect. It was the home side who came closest to a fortuitous first-half breakthrough, however, as Joseph Enakarhire sliced at Downing's cross and was relieved to see the ball fly straight at Ricardo.
McClaren replaced Reiziger with Szilárd Nemeth at the interval but the visitors again began better and took the lead within three minutes of the restart. Liedson and Douala combined to slice open the Middlesbrough defence and Pedro Barbosa raced clear to drive a low shot past Schwarzer for a crucial away goal. Four minutes later it was 2-0 as Schwarzer saved Douala's shot with his legs, but the Sporting forward retrieved possession and floated a cross towards Liedson, whose powerful header gave the goalkeeper no chance.
Sporting added a third just past the hour following another swift counterattack. Schwarzer again made fine saves from Hugo Viana and Liedson, but was powerless to prevent Douala touching the ball over the line to emphasise Sporting's superiority. Although Job's acrobatic late effort, from Zenden's free-kick, and Riggott's fine volley four minutes from time, roused the home supporters, the English team still have it all to do on 17 March.
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