CRYSTAL Palace last night ended Middlesbrough’s proud unbeaten run by winning an entertaining Carling Cup third round tie 2-1 at Selhurst Park.
Boro went into the tie having last lost at Burnley in April and had won their eight previous away games.
Manager Tony Mowbray had promised to utilise his squad ahead of the tie and was as good as his word.
He made seven changes from the side which kicked off Saturday’s 1-0 win at Palace, including a new midfield quartet with Kevin Thomson making his first start of the season after finally recovering from an operation on a leg fracture.
The Boro boss named skipper Matthew Bates on the bench while left-back Joe Bennett had to serve the suspension he picked up following his sending off on Saturday.
Goalkeeper Carl Ikeme has been sitting out Boro’s cup ties as a condition of his loan from Wolves and Danny Coyne, who was his side’s man of the match in their second-round win at Peterborough, stepped in again last night – putting in another outstanding display.
Alex Nimely, a loan signing from Manchester City, made his debut in attack, replacing top scorer Marvin Emnes.
Palace boss Dougie Freedman went one better, making eight changes with right winger Wilfried Zaha, who tormented Boro in a 25-minute cameo on Saturday, the most notable addition – though he lined up on the left.
Boro were bidding to reach the last 16 of the League Cup for the first time since the 2005/06 season and looked bright in the opening exchanges, Arca heavily involved in an unfamiliar position on the right.
The Argentinian went on a penetrating run in the second minute, cutting in from the right but, from a tight angle, poked a left-foot shot across the face of the goal.
Soon after Boro threatened down the opposite flank with Scott McDonald playing the ball wide to Zemmama, but the Moroccan’s attempt curled high and wide from the edge of the box.
Palace should have taken the lead in the sixth minute when Calvin Andrew released Zaha, who just had the goalkeeper to beat, but Coyne stood his ground and did well to smother the teenager’s eventual shot.
The same player did not make the same mistake when presented with a more difficult chance in the 18th minute.
Boro were architects of their own downfall. Thomson played a loose forward pass in midfield, Jon Williams intercepted 10 yards inside his own half, broke clear and fed Zaha, who cut across the covering defender before lashing an unstoppable shot past Coyne.
Two minutes later, the visitors went close when Tony McMahon delivered a free-kick into the box but Rhys Williams headed wide. Boro managed to force Lewis Price into making a save when Zemmama’s looping header from a cleared corner was well taken at full stretch by the keeper.
Andrew’s aim was better when he unleashed a 25 yard drive which Coyne initially parried before gathering at the second attempt.
Boro were living dangerously and in first-half stoppage time the same player’s goalbound header from a Stuart O’Keefe corner was deflected wide off a defender.
Mowbray changed his system to 3-5-2 at half-time, bringing on Bates for McMahon, who was walking a tightrope following a booking for a foul on Zaha.
That did not stop Palace going agonisingly close to doubling their lead soon after the re-start.
Murray latched on to a lofted ball into the box, toe-poking a shot over Coyne but his effort dropped onto the crossbar.
Murray then hit a low shot from the edge of the box which took a wicked deflection off a defender and Coyne did well to change direction and save.
He could do little about Palace’s second goal in the 52nd minute.
Zaha hit a deep cross from the left to Andrew, who aimed a well-directed header up and over the goalkeeper from a tight angle at the back post which Stephen McManus could only help over the line.
Palace were good value for their lead, but Boro kept the tie alive by pulling one back against the run of play 10 minutes into the half.
Hoyte’s centre from the right found Zemmama, who slotted a low shot past Price.
Just after the hour mark, Hoyte again delivered from the right, this time picking out Nimely who, with his back to goal, turned sharly before forcing a good save out of Price with a shot on the turn.
Boro looked much more effectvive following the introduction of Emnes and Faris Haroun for Arca and Smallwood in the 67th minute, but they were unable to create a genuine goalscoring chance.
CRYSTAL PALACE: Price, Marrow, McCarthy, Gardner, Moxey, Zaha (Scannell 86), Williams (Ramage 66), O’Keefe, Parr, Andrew, Murray (Iversen 74).
Subs Not Used: Speroni, Jedinak, Easter, Caprice.
Booked: Murray, Price. Goals: Zaha 18, Andrew 52.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Coyne, McMahon (Bates 46), McManus, Rhys Williams, Hoyte, Zemmama, Thomson, Smallwood (Emnes 67), Arca (Haroun 67), McDonald, Nimely.
Subs Not Used: Ripley, Bailey, Kink, Halliday.
Booked: McMahon, Arca. Goals: Zemmama 55.
Att: 5,448. Ref: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).