First XI

The Media Review: Middlesbrough

How the newspapers and websites reported Albion's 5-1 win at the Riverside on Saturday.

By Nick Szczepanik • 08 January 2023

By Paul Hazlewood
Evan Ferguson has got plenty of company as he waits to attack a corner.

Newspapers are notoriously short-staffed these days and never so stretched as on FA Cup third round day, when there are far more games demanding their attention than they can possibly staff.

That is when agencies come into their own. A single agency reporter often supplying copy to several sports desks, which explains why the same by-line appears in the Sunday papers above a number of reports, some of which had predictably similar intros. Some sports editors decided that Albion’s match at Middlesbrough merited the dispatch of a staff writer, but others, perhaps believing - in an undoubted compliment to Roberto De Zerbi’s men - that no upset was on the cards, did not.

But there seemed to be a consensus among the writers that Albion’s Argentinian World Cup winner was to be the focus of their reports. The Mail on Sunday sent David Coverdale along to the Riverside and he wrote: “From the Middle East to Middlesbrough, Alexis Mac Allister showed he can shine wherever he plays a cup competition.

“Just 20 days ago, the Argentina midfielder was lifting the World Cup in Qatar, providing an assist for Angel Di Maria in that thrilling final with France.  Here, Mac Allister came off the bench in a rather more low-key FA Cup third round tie on Teesside. But he was celebrating again after netting two goals – one of them a moment of magic - in a cameo oozing all the confidence of a man who has just won the greatest prize in football.

“Mac Allister only returned to training with Brighton on Monday following his post-Qatar celebrations in his homeland. The next day, he played 28 minutes in the Seagulls’ 4-1 victory at Everton. At the Riverside he came on at the start of the second half and superbly scored just 13 minutes after his introduction – instinctively flicking in Pervis Estupinan’s ball from 12 yards.

“Mac Allister then grabbed his second and Brighton’s fourth ten minutes from time with a more comfortable finish, side-footing home Pascal Gross’ pass to cap a perfect return to club football.


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FA Cup Highlights: Middlesbrough 1 Albion 5

“‘I’m living the dream,’ said the 24-year-old. ‘I wanted to come back. The club gave me to January 5 ,but I came back earlier because I wanted to train, play and share my medal with the club. I feel very happy to be a part of this club and to be in this city, so I will continue to give it my all.’

“Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi, who dedicated this win to his fellow Italian Gianluca Vialli, added: ‘Alexis is no surprise for me. He is a top player. I knew that before the World Cup, but now everybody knows. He is a strong player in his head. He didn’t need the World Cup to have confidence. He has always had the quality to score’.”

Louise Taylor, the Observer’s long-time North East football writer, thought that “in many ways Brighton are a template of the type of team Michael Carrick hopes to turn Middlesbrough into and, with Alexis Mac Allister scoring twice, they certainly set an example to aspire to. Even before Mac Allister’s second-half introduction Roberto De Zerbi’s side were on top, but the World Cup winner fully emphasised the gap between fifth in the Championship and eighth in the Premier League.

“From the moment Mac Allister scored his first goal, an outrageous backheel, no one could possibly argue that Brighton did not deserve their place in the FA Cup’s fourth round. A run of six wins in seven Championship games had bolstered Boro but, despite some encouraging pass-and-move cameos from Carrick’s players, this match was a reminder that they remain in the early stages of the former England and Manchester United midfielder’s overhaul.

“Resisting the temptation to rotate, Carrick fielded Boro’s strongest available starting XI. His defence was quickly confounded as Evan Ferguson’s clever ball permitted the excellent Solly March to test Zack Steffen’s reflexes. Although Boro’s Manchester City loanee goalkeeper repelled the resultant shot, Pascal Gross steered the rebound home.

“Brighton were generally far too quick and slick for Carrick’s team. They deservedly regained the lead when the dangerous Kaoru Mitoma volleyed March’s deep cross over Steffen and the stooping Adam Lallana applied the final touch from point-blank range.

“Fresh from Qatar’s winter warmth and the subsequent celebrations amid an Argentinian summer, Mac Allister was soon pulling all sorts of strings, reinforcing the point by scoring Brighton’s third courtesy of an audacious flick of the sort Lionel Messi would treasure. A wonderfully delicate left-footed touch succeeded in diverting Pervis Estupinan’s shot beyond Steffen. Confidence bolstered, Mac Allister then timed a run into the box to perfection and, having met Gross’s low cross, slid in his second goal, right-footed.


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Mac Allister: We deserved the win

“Long before the substitute Deniz Undav made it five after being cued up by March it had turned into a masterclass from the visitors.

“’I thought we did really well, actually,’ said Carrick. ‘Brighton have so much quality; a lot of people don’t realise how good they’ve become. They did to us exactly what we’re trying to do to Championship teams’.”

Craig Johns of Middlesbrough’s local paper, The Chronicle, was similarly impressed by Albion’s display and also thought that the Seagulls offered a template for Carrick’s Boro rebuild.

“Sometimes you just have to appreciate the quality of the opposition and be gracious in defeat,” he wrote. “Saturday was certainly one of those days for Middlesbrough. “Brighton were clinical in front of goal, while on the ball, you have to appreciate how good they were on the day. The crispness of their passing, the ability and confidence on the ball and the rhythm to so often play one-touch football that dragged Boro all over. It was clear to see why they're eighth in the top-flight league table.

“The evolution of Brighton in recent years has been quite remarkable. It's almost seven years ago that they visited the Riverside on what is now a well-remembered and revered day in Boro history. A 1-1 draw on Teesside ensured Boro were promoted to the Premier League ahead of Brighton.

“They were a club with a clear vision and direction though, and they'd ultimately gain Premier League status just 12 months later, at the same time that Boro's brief venture back in the top flight was coming to an end. Unlike Brighton, Boro were not so clear on their pathway forward.


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De Zerbi: This Is Our Way

“In the years since, Brighton's incredible structure has helped them establish themselves in the Premier League, ultimately building the quality team that we saw in action at the Riverside.  Brighton are the shining example of what can be achieved when you get that right, and ultimately they are the paragon for what Boro have to aspire to in the years ahead.”

Jason Mellor was covering the game for both the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times.  In the Telegraph he wrote that Ally Mac “came off the bench to score twice in Brighton's five-goal romp on Teesside as they gave further notice to the strides they're making under their Italian head coach.

“They swept a game Middlesbrough team aside with ease to continue their impressive goal scoring record on the road and easily seal passage to Sunday's draw for the fourth round - where few sides will relish facing their free-flowing brand of pleasing-on-the-eye football. Brighton are the Premier League's top scorers on the road this season, and it showed.”

In the Sunday Times, he varied it, writing that “the Argentina midfielder helped to give Middlesbrough a sobering lesson about the standards that they must reach to achieve their aim of a Premier League return as Roberto De Zerbi’s side progressed effortlessly into the fourth round.

“The scoreline was perhaps a little harsh on the home side, who conceded twice in the final ten minutes, by which stage they were dead on their feet having been pulled from pillar to post and back again by some wonderfully fluid football. Brighton had shown a worrying level of vulnerability against lower division sides in last month’s Carabao Cup exit to Charlton, and to their credit Boro made a contest of it for the first 45 minutes. But Michael Carrick’s side, who have been in good form in the Championship with six wins in their past seven league games, were soon chasing shadows after Mac Allister’s introduction for the second-half.”

Ian Murtagh’s byline appeared above reports in all the tabloids, but again he showed the reporter’s art of subtle variation. In the Sun, he demonstrated that he has a long memory by reminding readers that Albion’s best FA Cup campaign, the run to the 1983 final, also kicked off with a win in the North East.

“Back then Jimmy Melia’s side beat Newcastle in a controversial replay, but it was a stunning second-half display from World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister that provided the main talking point here.

“Man-of-the-moment Mac Allister scored twice – with the first an outrageous piece of skill. The Argentinian showed the same flair that made him one of the stars of the recent tournament by diverting Pervis Estupinan’s shot past Zack Steffen in the 58th minute with the cheekiest of flicks.

“And he doubled his tally ten minutes from time, expertly converting Pascal Gross’ low centre with a first-time shot. With Mac Allister in this mood, anything seems possible.”

His report in The People was different but also harked back to FA Cups gone by: “Don’t rule out another Roberto getting his hands on the trophy. Since 2011, Messieurs Martinez, Di Matteo and Mancini have led their respective sides to Wembley glory.

“You wouldn’t bet against Roberto De Zerbi following in their footsteps, 40 years after Jimmy Melia’s Seagulls were thrashed 4-0 by Manchester United in a final a week after suffering relegation. But De Zerbi’s modern-day side are a very different proposition, as Michael Carrick’s in-form Boro will testify.”

Away from the FA Cup, Paul Rowan had an interesting take on the emergence of Evan Ferguson in the Irish Times. “Brighton & Hove Albion are making a habit of producing the next big Ireland striker, but this time the brouhaha smacks of reality when it comes to the 18-year-old Evan Ferguson.

“It seems like only yesterday that we were flocking to the south coast to fete the arrival of the next Robbie Keane in the form of Aaron Connolly, and with Ferguson the comparisons have even stretched as far as Erling Haaland.

“Far-fetched as that may sound, the comparison with the marauding Manchester City striker deserves dwelling on for a moment. Not, principally, because they are roughly of the same stature and share some common attributes when it comes to their aggression, physicality and poise in front of goal. Rather, it is because of the elevated territory that seems to come naturally to them and is perhaps even sown in their DNA. Both of their fathers played professional football and suffered the vicissitudes of the game — Barry Ferguson when he was released by Coventry City as a teenager and Alfe-Inge Haaland, whose career was never the same after that infamous tackle in a Manchester derby in 2001 by a certain Roy Keane.

“Their sons have eclipsed them when it comes to achievements on the pitch, but there is a level-headedness about them both which smacks of being pointed in the right direction and coming from what some football managers like to call a ‘good family’. After scoring his second goal in consecutive Premier League games in the 4-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park, Ferguson said all of the right things as he did his ‘man of the match’ interview — and yet he still managed to sound engaged and interesting.

“We still hold a candle for Connolly, who remains an exciting talent as he turns 23 later this month, but the flame is flickering. Should Connolly do well at Hull, there could still be room for him back at Brighton, even though another young attacking Irish player, Andrew Moran, is also showing huge promise at the club. Brighton were four goals up at Goodison Park on Tuesday night when De Zerbi brought the 19-year-old Dubliner on with 11 minutes to go, but still it showed that Moran isn’t far behind in the manager’s mind.

“There is an interesting discussion to be had centred around Ferguson; he was allowed to join Brighton as a 16-year-old, whereas his contemporaries at St Kevin’s Boys club in Dublin have to wait until they’re 18; an English mother and eligibility for a British passport meant the post-Brexit restrictions didn’t apply to Ferguson and had he stayed in Ireland it is most probable that his development wouldn’t have been anything like as rapid.”

One ‘story’ that appeared in a national paper today and has been repeated on various websites, cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

It claimed that “big-hitting Premier League clubs have been told that a £65m bid could land Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo.”

But it doesn’t say who by, of course. It continues by stating that “interested parties were initially quoted £85m” and that “this latest update will be well-received by Anfield chiefs.”

Well, it probably would be if those ‘Anfield chiefs’ were not already well aware that Albion owner never puts an asking price on our players, so certainly would never have ‘quoted’ £85m or any other sum. Nothing to see here, folks.