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The miracle of Middlesbrough: When McClaren’s comeback kings overcame Steaua

As Steaua Bucharest travel to London aiming to dump Chelsea out of the Europa League, Mark Gilbey recalls the last time the Romanians faced an English side in the knock-out stages of a European competitionâ¦

You have to listen carefully, but there's a brief moment after Massimo MaccaroneâÂÂs last-minute winner for Middlesbrough against Steaua Bucharest in the Uefa Cup semi-final six years ago â and it really is just a couple of seconds â when the only sound on BBC Tees was the RiversideâÂÂs roar.

In the excitement of it all, of the ItalianâÂÂs bald head meeting a Stewart Downing cross, commentator and long-time Boro supporter Ali Brownlee dropped his microphone in the press box. You can hear him scrambling around trying to pick it up before the silence is broken by something about âÂÂdriving a stake through the heart of DraculaâÂÂs boysâÂÂ.

Some may scoff, but it is a wonderful piece of radio that captures the raw emotion of being a football fan.

The self-styled âÂÂsmall town in Europeâ were the continentâÂÂs comeback kings that season. Steve McClarenâÂÂs side had qualified for the Uefa Cup after finishing seventh in the Premier League, but the 2005/06 campaign was ultimately a disappointing one.

Despite beating Chelsea and Manchester United, Boro were hammered 7-0 by Arsenal and ended the Premier League campaign in a disappointing 14th place. They did, however, enjoy cup runs both at home and in Europe. After navigating their way through the Uefa Cup group stages, plus ties against Stuttgart and Roma, Boro earned themselves a quarterfinal against Basel.

Christian Grossâ team seemed in control at the halfway stage of the tie. After all, they had won the first leg 2-0 in Switzerland and after 23 minutes at the Riverside their Brazilian striker Eduardo made it 3-0 on aggregate.

But then something extraordinary happened. Mark Viduka struck either side of half-time and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink added a third in the 79th minute. The momentum was with Boro.

BaselâÂÂs Daniel Majstoroviàneedlessly got himself sent off, but they still needed another goal. Time was running out but with seconds remaining Pascal Zuberbühler parried Fábio RochembackâÂÂs shot and on hand was Maccarone â their ã8.15m misfit striker who had been back to Italy for loan spells with Parma and Siena â to pounce and setup a semi-final against Steaua. âÂÂThey will come to see this as Middlesbrough's Istanbul moment,â announced the Guardian.

Their Romanian opponents, champions of Europe 20 years earlier, overcame city rivals Rapid Bucharest in the previous round. Some 1,700 fans made their way east for the first leg that was MiddlesbroughâÂÂs 56th match of the season, and fourth in eight days. It is little wonder this young team - missing 35-year-old captain Gareth Southgate, Mark Viduka and Chris Riggott - looked jaded. Cosmin OlÃÂroiuâÂÂs side won the first leg 1-0 when Nicolae Dicàheld off George Boateng, before swivelling and firing past Mark Schwarzer. But for the Australian, it could have been far worse.

The victory came at a cost for Steaua though, who would be without the suspended Sorin Paraschiv and BÃÂnel NicoliÃÂÃÂ in the second leg.

Although Steaua would be without the suspended Sorin Paraschiv and BÃÂnel NicoliÃÂàfor the second leg, they did have the luxury of resting half the team for a 3-0 victory over Farul Constanãa.

By comparison, McClarenâÂÂs preparations had hardly been perfect. Boro had suffered the disappointment of being beaten 1-0 by West Ham United in an FA Cup semi-final, but welcomed back Southgate, Riggott and Viduka to their 3-1-4-2 formation.

Before kick-off the atmosphere inside the ground had been electric. Fans held aloft red and white cards spelling out âÂÂEindhovenâÂÂ, the venue for the final, and there was a rousing rendition of âÂÂYou are my Boroâ that had the Riverside buzzing. Interest in Romania had been huge. The acclaimed Teatrul de Comedie even cancelled its performance of William ShakespeareâÂÂs Two Gentlemen of Verona that evening.

McClaren instructed his team to keep it tight early on â he didnâÂÂt want another repeat of Basel â but inside 25 minutes Boro found themselves two goals down on the night and heading for defeat.

First, Petre Marin cut inside and unleashed a shot from 22 yards that Brad Jones â standing in for Schwarzer, who had broken his cheekbone against West Ham â could only parry, allowing Dicàto open the scoring on 16 minutes. Steaua soon had a second. Dorin GoianâÂÂs header from a corner was blocked, but the defender smashed the ball in at the second opportunity.

Boro needed four. WhatâÂÂs more, Southgate injured his knee and had to be replaced by Maccarone. Resigned to defeat, some supporters left the ground.

With nothing to lose, McClaren abandoned the five-man midfield. The fight back began in the 33rd minute when Viduka found Maccarone out wide on the right and the Italian fired a shot across Carlos Fernandes into the far corner. âÂÂThree more, we only need three more,â sang the Riverside. Surely not? Surely even they didnâÂÂt believe it? Not again?

Fernandes kept Boro at bay until half-time, but the pressure continued after the interval as McClaren introduced a fourth striker, Ayegbeni Yakubu, in place of Andrew Taylor.

It took 19 minutes for Boro to add a second. Downing, whose return after five months out with a knee injury injected fresh impetus into Boro, delivered a cross from deep that Viduka met with a thumping header to level on the night, but they still required another two.

Downing also had a hand in the third. A throw-in caused panic and Steaua could only clear as far as the winger who fired a low cross-cum-shot that Fernandes couldnâÂÂt hold, allowing Riggott to slide in from close range on 73 minutes.

âÂÂI turned to the lads on the bench and said: âÂÂthis is ours now',â McClaren later reflected in the Northern Echo. âÂÂWe still had plenty of time left, but after 10 or so minutes had passed, I think everyone was getting twitchy.âÂÂ

Less than 60 seconds remained when Downing whipped in another teasing cross; Steaua cleared and, although Middlesbrough won the second ball, the Romanians got it back.

Daniel BÃÂlan received a pass about 25 yards out and then, of all moments, he miscontrolled and it went straight to Downing. He turned BÃÂlan inside out and swung over another ball that found the head of a diving Maccarone to clinch a remarkable victory at the death.

The Riverside erupted. âÂÂQue sera sera, whatever will be will be, we're going to PSV, que sera sera,â sang the fans at the final whistle. It was one of the greatest nights in BoroâÂÂs history.

âÂÂI said that lightning couldn't strike twice in the same place but it has done,â declared McClaren. âÂÂNow let's go one step further and win the final.âÂÂ

It would have been a perfect send-off for him in his last game - by then it had become known that after five years McClaren would be leaving to take the England job.

Alas, it was a step too far. Over 12,000 fans travelled to Eindhoven for the final against Sevilla, but goals from Luis Fabiano, Enzo Maresca (two) and Frédéric Kanouté handed Juande Ramosâ side a 4-0 win. It was a sad farewell for McClaren but regardless of the result, his small town in Europe had made a big impression on the continent.

Middlesbrough 4-2 Steaua Bucharest (agg 4-3)
Uefa Cup semi-final, second leg (27 April 2006).

Middlesbrough Brad Jones; Chris Riggott, Gareth Southgate (Massimo Maccarone 26âÂÂ), Franck Queudrue; Stuart Parnaby, Fábio Rochemback, George Boateng, Stewart Downing, Andrew Taylor (Ayegbeni Yakubu 55âÂÂ); Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Ugo Ehiogu 90âÂÂ), Mark Viduka. Unused substitutes: David Knight, Matthew Bates, Lee Cattermole, Ray Parlour.
Goals: Massimo Maccarone 33âÂÂ, 89âÂÂ; Mark Viduka 64âÂÂ; Chris Riggott 73âÂÂ.
Steaua Bucharest Carlos Fernandes; George OgÃÂraru, Sorin Ghionea, Dorin Goian, Petre Marin; Daniel Oprita (Eugen Baciu 81âÂÂ), Mirel RÃÂdoi, Florin Lovin, Gabriel Boßtinà(Mihai Neßu 86âÂÂ); Nicolae DicÃÂ, Victoraß Iacob (Daniel BÃÂlan 65âÂÂ). Unused substitutes: Cornel Cernea, Valentin Simion, VasilicàCristocea, Andrei Cristea.
Goals: Nicolae Dicà16âÂÂ; Dorin Goian 24âÂÂ.