Barclays Premier League
December 26 2000, 15:00
SUPER Boro produced a display of passion and skill to do what championship contenders Manchester United and Arsenal had failed to do - beat Liverpool.
A tap-in from World Cup winner Christian Karembeu was enough to see off the on-form Merseysiders in a pulsating game at the Riverside.
Boro's first sell-out of the season was greeted with the disappointing news that former star Christian Ziege was not in the Liverpool squad and had not even travelled to the Riverside.
Fans had been looking forward to giving the German a warm welcome back ever since his summertime defection to the Merseysiders.
Terry Venables' team were without the injured Steve Vickers and Robbie Mustoe was also missing from the side that drew 0-0 with Spurs on Saturday.
Defenders Curtis Fleming and Gianluca Festa returned to the starting line-up.
A great ball from Christian Karembeu released Noel Whelan on the right-hand side of the box after six minutes but keeper Sander Westerveld dived to save comfortably from the shot.
Boro had a lucky escape after 12 minutes when Michael Owen's shot from the edge of the six-yard box span harmlessly over the bar as the England man came under pressure.
Liverpool then had an amazing let off when Alen Boksic's miscue fell to Karembeu who had time to shoot himself but passed to Whelan and Boksic had strayed into an offside position by the time the cross-shot fell into the Croatian's path.
An electric atmosphere began to build up as Liverpool struck back instantly as Emile Heskey's shot was deflected for a corner which was comfortably dealt with by Mark Schwarzer.
Karembeu was always in the thick of the action and his superb long ball released Whelan who forced another Boro corner, but Paul Ince shot badly wide as the ball fell to him on the edge of the D.
Ugo Ehiogu showed his strength to hold off Heskey and head the ball back to the keeper as the game continued to flow from end to end.
There was another scare for Liverpool after 23 minutes when Keith O'Neill fired a 25-yard shot just over the bar from a free kick after Boksic was fouled.
Liverpool then enjoyed a period of possession and there were shouts for a penalty for handball after one dangerous cross was cleared.
But Christian Karembeu raised the roof off the Riverside on 42 minutes when he touched in from close range when Westerfeld could only parry Curtis Fleming's low shot after Karembeu himself had set the Irishman up.
Colin Cooper and Jamie Carragher went into referee Stephen Lodge's notebook before Boro took a well-deserved lead into the half-time break.
The second half began in bizarre fashion as Festa needed treatment before the kick-off as he was physically sick, but he was able to resume to take his place in the Boro defence.
England midfielder Steve Gerrard engineered the first chance of the second half with a run and cross from the left but Owen was unable to keep his header down.
Owen showed lethal pace in the box to sail past Colin Cooper but he could only shoot across the six-yard box from a good position.
Czech star Vladimir Smicer then tested Schwarzer with a long-range shot as the visitors continued to dominate the early exchanges of the second period.
Owen and Igor Biscan made way for Robbie Fowler and Gary McAllister moments later as Liverpool reshuffled their pack.
Former Boro man Nick Barmby was booked after an ugly late tackle on Paul Okon as Boro struggled to get the ball out of their half.
A great first time clearance from Fleming found Karembeu but the Frenchman was hauled down for a free kick as Boro at last drew breath.
Schwarzer saved well from Fowler on the edge of the box after a great run from the allegedly unsettled striker.
Cooper made a brilliant run across his own box to clear a dangerous opening while Festa and Ehiogu were also playing their parts in a superb rearguard action.
Terry Venables gave 20-year-old midfielder Mark Hudson a debut on 70 minutes in place of the hard-working Karembeu.
Boro eventually forced their way back into the visitors' half with a wonderful sweeping move involving Boksic and Ince, but Fleming eventually crossed into the side netting.
Festa then came close to sealing the points with a superb run and long-range shot which whistled just wide as Boro looked to have weathered the storm.
Boro broke again through Deane on the left and his cross was headed behind for a corner which was cleared.
Barmby could have evened the game for Liverpool but miscued from close range and moments later Fowler shot wide from another good chance.
Venables tried to bring on Joseph Job as the seconds ticked away, but although Noel Whelan had left the pitch, the fourth official told the Cameroon star to take off a chain around his neck and he was forced to wait.
The Boro faithful began to sense victory in the air and a tremendous noise was generated throughout the stadium.
Liverpool continued to push forward but the ball just wouldn't go in. as Boro defended like lions and hung on to claim a fantastic victory.
Schwarzer, Fleming, Festa, Karembeu (Hudson 70), Ince (Capt.), Boksic (Deane 77), O'Neill, Okon, Ehiogu, Whelan (Job 90, didn't take to field), Cooper.
Unused subs: Gordon, Crossley.
Booked: Cooper (43)
Westerveld, Henchoz, Babbel (Murphy 82), Smicer, Heskey, Owen (Fowler 55), Hyypia (Capt.), Gerrard, Barmby, Carragher, Biscan (McAllister 55).
Subs not used: Hamann, Arphexad
Booked: Carragher (44), Barmby (58)
Referee: Stephen Lodge
Man of the Match: Gianluca Festa
Moment of the Match: Christian Karembeu's close-range goal which won Boro vital points in the battle against relegation.