Goals in each half from George Boateng and Mark Viduka proved enough to give Middlesbrough FC a hard-earned win against Xanthi FC in the UEFA Cup first round in a closely-fought encounter.
Middlesbrough reached the last 32 of the competition on their European debut last season and controlled much of the game tonight, although the visitors also created a number of presentable opportunities. In the event, however, it was the home side who took their chances to leave themselves well-placed ahead of the return fixture at the Xanthis stadium in a fortnight.
Big names rested
Lacking Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Gaizka Mendieta and Stewart Downing through injury and with Gareth Southgate, Franck Queudrue and Yakubu Ayegbeni all on the bench, it was perhaps little surprise that the home side found it hard to establish a rhythm in the early stages. Indeed, with both teams making only their second UEFA Cup appearances, neither settled quickly although Massimo Maccarone might have put Middlesbrough in front, pouncing on Ioannis Papadimitriou's short back-pass and rounding goalkeeper Petr Pižanowski only to take the ball out of play.
With former Middlesbrough man Emerson prompting from midfield, although too deep to cause the home team genuine concern, the visitors seemed content to stifle their opponents. The gameplan worked initially, but came unstuck two minutes before the half-hour mark as the Greek side fell behind. Viduka, who had increasingly dropped deeper in search of possession, created the initial chance with a clever lobbed pass that set Maccarone clear and, although Pižanowski blocked the striker's shot, Boateng was on hand to tuck the rebound into the unguarded net.
Both Maccarone and Adam Johnson had half-chances as the Premiership team threatened to take command. That impression was reinforced in the opening seconds of the second period as Boateng had an effort blocked, but instead Xanthi – who conceded four goals at S.S. Lazio in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup first round, their only other away game in the competition – rallied strongly.
Both Stavros Labriakos and Levan Maghradze missed the target having cleverly worked space in front of goal before Maghradze raced away down the right to prod a shot that Mark Schwarzer gathered at the second attempt. The Greek team were made to regret those misses with seven minutes left, Viduka's left-foot shot deflecting off Jacques Paviot and looping into the corner of the net to double the English side's advantage.