'First choice' McClaren loses face
Middlesbrough 0 - 4 SevillaIt was supposed to be the night when Middlesbrough capitalised on twin dramatic comebacks against FC Basle and Steaua Bucharest by lifting the UEFA Cup in Eindhoven.
There's a common school of thought that Steve McClaren landed the England job based on those two UEFA Cup matches. Those comebacks no longer mask the shortcomings of Boro 2005/06.
Rather than the heroics of Massimo Maccarone, the image of the fan who hurled his season ticket at the bench after the 4-0 mauling by Aston Villa at the Riverside came to mind as Boro were outclassed in every area of the pitch by an impressive Sevilla side.
The Teesside club's problems run deep. They finished 14th in the Premiership for good reason.
Whoever takes over from Soho Square's stated, though barely believed, 'first choice' has no easy task to turn things around. While a host of players have come through from successful FA Youth Cup campaigns of recent seasons their most experienced campaigners may be getting too long in the tooth to be considered part of a new beginning.
Captain Gareth Southgate can have barely more than two seasons at the top level while Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink - certain to be shown the door in the coming days - looks a shadow of the player who scored goals prolifically at Leeds and Chelsea while Mark Viduka's goal return this term has been dismal. And then there's a serious question over keeper Mark Schwarzer's true commitment, the keeper having handed in a transfer request in January before a chnage of heart that may yet be temporary.
The new man will want his own way of moulding the youth set-up. Chairman Steve Gibson will no doubt be looking to appoint a coach who has belief in the Academy, but few managers give young players as much chance to impress in the first team as McClaren has done of late.
Gibson will surely be forced to get the chequebook out for another rebuilding programme if Boro are to challenge for a return to the European scene in the near future.
From the outset in Eindhoven, Sevilla were sharper, showed greater hunger and had a forward line excelling in the arts of movement and trickery.
Twice in the opening exchangesm Boro were close to coming unstuck from forceful runs to the byline and a low cross to the near post. Only the desperate intervention of a diving Chris Riggott saved them from falling behind earlier.
While Sevilla were passing the ball around crisply, Boro looked hesitant. They found it almost impossible to find a red shirt with even a regulation five-yard pass.
They did look to have scope for success down the right, where young James Morrison was allowed the space to push on. But the teenage winger found the occasion far too grand and McClaren must reflect on a selection mistake. The impact made by Massimo Maccarone after the break only served to underline the error.
But Morrison was not the only player to suffer from stage fright. Franck Queuedrue, so often a rock at left-back and a source of support for Downing in advancing down the left, was as wasteful as anyone.
And when the ball reached the forwards, a rare luxury in the first 45, Viduka couldn't make it stay up there. With Viduka's qualities of holding up the ball and bringing others into play left in the dressing room, Boro's forward play broke down usually before it had barely started.
Meanwhile, Sevilla were strutting their stuff. Just as it seemed the Premiership side had weathered the early storm, the opening goal came.
Sevilla reverted to the long ball to Luis Fabiano after finding their attempts to play through Boro area repelled. This time Boro's defensive line sat deep and rather than them seeing the ball bounce through to Mark Schwarzer, they instead saw Fabiano angle a perfect header into the corner of the net off a post.
It was fair reward for the Spanish side's superiority. While Sevilla constantly closed down when Boro had the ball in defence, forcing errors as Boro were made to rush their play, they were afforded time and space to build. It was a crucial difference.
McClaren was forced to change matters at the break, with Morrison replaced by UEFA Cup talisman Maccarone. And it seemed to pay immediate dividends with a cutting edge threatening to come into Boro's play.
Sevilla's defenders were forced to turn their attentions to the Italian forward, freeing up space for Downing. Finally Boro began to look dangerous and just seven minutes after the restart came perhaps the most crucial moment of the game.
A ball swung in from the left was nodded back across goal by Chris Riggott, and Viduka was left unmarked with the task of sidefooting home. Spanish goalkeeper Palop certainly deserves praise for the point-blank save - but the situation demanded a goal from the Australian striker.
Sevilla then settled for playing on the break, and the impressive partnership of Daniel Alves and Jesus Navas, the latest Andalucian golden boy following best friend Jose Antonio Reyes' transfer to Arsenal in 2003, caused problems all night.
Sevilla, who may well pip Osasuna to the remaining La Liga Champions League place, were always good value for a second goal after a number of further stops by Schwarzer.
Juande Ramos' side certainly deserved victory, but a fourth rubbed salt into the wounds of the travelling army of Boro fans.
On hand to tap home after Schwarzer had failed to parry a shot away from goal, he then fired home a sublime second for himself from the edge of the box before creating a goal for substitute Fredi Kanoute in the dying embers of the game.
Boro had nowhere near that kind of quality in midfield. With Downing closely marked by Alves, when he wasn't marauding on in support of Navas, George Boateng failing to play the midfield anchor role with any authority and Fabio Rochemback being as inconsistent as ever there was no way back.
Sevilla are no Steau Bucharest, no FC Basle. And McClaren's legacy, as he begins the prelude to his new job in assisting Sven Goran Eriksson at the World Cup, may reflect that it was he, just as much as his team, who failed the test.