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Football: SOUTH GREAT; CARLING CUP FINAL 2004 SPECIAL: BOLTON WANDERERS 1 MIDDLESBROUGH 2 Gareth's day of destiny.

Byline: Martin LIPTON

THE EIGHT-year wait for an English manager to win a trophy is a mere blink in time for Middlesbrough.

And as Steve McClaren finally rubbed Brian Little's name out of the record book, the common link was there to lift the Carling Cup aloft under the Millennium Stadium roof.

When Gareth Southgate's career ends he may well reflect on what might have been - the move to Chelsea that was blocked by Doug Ellis, Manchester United's failure to follow up their interest, and his fall from international favour under Sven Goran Eriksson.

What has never diminished is his desire and willingness to put himself on the line every time he walks onto the pitch.

Forgotten by many, it was Southgate who skippered Aston Villa to Wembley victory over Leeds in 1996, and yesterday it was the centre-half once again who put the final full-stop on 128 years of Teesside failure, punching the air in triumph before raising the tin pot.

The fireworks that exploded around him lifted the gypsy curse that has hung over Boro for so long, even if it threatened a final guffaw with the Mark Schwarzer howler that put Bolton back into a game they lost inside seven minutes.

Yes, the Bolo Zenden penalty that proved to be the decisive moment in a game that at times defied belief, was a freak and should not have counted according to the letter of the law.

Yet even if Southgate was as shaky as his colleagues under the physical battering from Kevin Davies, even if McClaren's reputation as a defensive co-ordinator took a nosedive, the Boro fans will never forget the day they have craved for all their lives.

In a game of defensive sloppiness, it was Boro's tightening up after the break that proved the difference. Just as important for McClaren was that it was his chief lieutenant who had the moment to relish.

The riotous assembly of Boro players after the final whistle told its own story after those three painful stumbles at the last hurdle against Leicester and Chelsea twice.

Boro being Boro, they made hard work of it, squandering four clear-cut openings in the second period to put Sam Allardyce's men away after George Boateng erected a defensive screen in front of the back four.

Yet it was that sort of game, right from the opening seconds and at one stage it seemed that every attack would bring a goal. As far as Boro were concerned, in the first seven minutes at least, it did.

Their opener, after 102 seconds, summed up the whole of that half, as Emerson Thome's weak header gifted Gaizka Mendieta possession, and the Spaniard spotted Zenden haring down the left. The pass begged a shot, and while Zenden was aiming for the far corner, his effort turned into the perfect low centre for the unmarked Joseph-Desire Job to stab home.

Thome's nightmare intensified four minutes later when the Brazilian's brainstorm saw him scythe straight through Job for the most clear-cut of spot kicks.

Zenden's standing foot slipped as he ran up to strike, with the Dutchman inadvertently clipping the ball against his right foot as a deceived Jussi Jaaskalainen dived the wrong way while his outstretched leg could only divert into the roof of the net.

Technically, it was not a goal, although Mike Riley would have needed eyes like an eagle to spot the offence - and he did not show them at any other stage in proceedings.

Two up and cruising. But when Davies' nothing shot from the corner of the box flicked off Southgate and then went straight through Schwarzer's hands into the net, anything seemed possible.

Three times in six minutes Youri Djorkaeff should have levelled. The 1998 World Cup winner was denied at point-blank range by Schwarzer when the Aussie tipped Per Frandsen's curler on to a post and then volleyed across goal after Davies outjumped Southgate and Co. And when a mis-hit by Ivan Campo - who later completed a rugby tackle on Zenden that would have met the approval of Sir Clive Woodward - fell to Djorkaeff he could not believe it as the keeper held on low to his left.

After the break Boro tightened up and should have taken advantage of several Juninho-inspired counters.

Bolton, who saw Kevin Nolan head weakly at Schwarzer, had a final shout of their own when Stelios Giannakopoulos was thwarted as Ugo Ehiogu threw everything in front of the Greek substitute's shot, with the appeals for handball answered in the negative.

But this was destined to be Boro's day, to be Southgate's moment in the spotlight.

BOLTON: Jaaskelainen, Hunt (Giannakopoulos 87), N'Gotty, Thome, Charlton, Frandsen (Pedersen 63), Campo, Okocha, Nolan (Javi Moreno 78), Djorkaeff, Davies.

MIDDLESBROUGH: Schwarzer, Mills, Ehiogu, Southgate, Queudrue, Mendieta, Boateng, Doriva, Zenden, Juninho, Job (Ricketts 65).

BOLTON MIDDLESBROUGH

53% POSSESSION 47%

8 SHOTS ON TARGET 5

3 SHOTS OFF TARGET 7

4 OFFSIDES 5

4 CORNERS 2

24 FOULS 16

2 YELLOW CARDS 2

0 RED CARDS 0

ATTENDANCE: 72,634

MAN OF THE MATCH: Southgate

CAPTION(S):

MOMENT OF TRIUMPH: Gareth Southgate screams with delight at the final whistle in Cardiff; THAT'S MY BOY: Sam Allardyce's son, Sam, three, still had a great day out; LONG WAIT IS OVER: Gareth Southgate and his Middlesbrough team-mates finally get their hands on some silverware, the Carling Cup, at the Millennium Stadium
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:896
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