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Throwback: Juninho provides Middlesbrough with glimmer of hope in '97 relegation battle
Monday, 15th Mar 2021 14:16 by David Broome

Our recent win over Coventry City took my mind back 25 years to another game against the Sky Blues, on September 7, 1996.

It was early in that fateful season of lost cup finals and relegation, but things were going well at the time.

We’d started the season with that thrilling 3-3 draw against Liverpool, in which Ravanelli became the first – and to date, only – player to score a hat-trick on their Premier League debut.

We then lost to Chelsea and drew at Forest, but the win against Coventry was the filling in the sandwich of a three-game winning run, the bread being victories against West Ham and Everton.

It was all about Juninho and Ravanelli in that spell. The Little Fella got his first goal of the season against Forest, and both our big summer signings got on the scoresheet in a 4-1 win at home to West Ham – Emerson joining Rav among the goals.

The next game, also at home, saw us thrash Coventry 4-0, with Ravanelli and Juninho both scoring twice.

By the end of the season, it was the Sky Blues celebrating as our points deduction meant they were saved from relegation, but that Saturday, there was nothing but optimism around the Riverside. Ravanelli’s brace made it six goals in just five games for him, while Juno had netted three in three games.

The following is an extract from my book, The Little Fella, about Juninho’s time at Middlesbrough:

“The scoring started early, with the Teesside crowd having only just brushed the pie crumbs from their stubbly faces (and that’s just the women) before settling down in their seats to watch the latest episode of this thrilling season.

“Juninho sent in a third-minute corner, Ravanelli connected grey hair with white ball and nutted it past a flailing Steve Ogrizovic. Robbie Mustoe then decided Richard Shaw is too fearsome an opponent to try and beat and instead set up Juninho to net the second, sparking an impromptu samba between the two Brazilians, with Ravanelli as choreographer.

“Mustoe got a second assist as Rav got a second goal, a nice left-footed curler from inside the D, and then Juninho’s own second was bafflingly simple. Ravanelli had the ball outside the area, and must have been tempted to seek his hat-trick, but instead spotted that Coventry have for some reason left both Juninho and Nick Barmby unmarked in the area. He selected Juninho with a pass, and the Little Fella had what felt like hours to decide how best to complete Oggy’s humiliation – eventually choosing to dummy a shot to his left before tapping it into the right corner.

“Juninho was on the scoresheet again in the following match, a 2-1 win at Everton as we picked up our first points on the road. At that point, we were sixth in the table, the second-top scorers in the league behind Man Utd and only three points off leaders Liverpool.

“Things could only go one way.”

Hopefully this season will see us heading in the opposite direction up into the Premier League, rather than dropping out of it.

My book, The Little Fella: How Middlesbrough fell in love with Juninho, is available to buy now, online from Waterstones and Amazon using these links. Or you can order a copy directly from me – email me HERE.

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