MARK Schwarzer returned to the Riverside for the first time as a player to put a massive block on Middlesbrough’s hopes of staying in the Premier League, then told his former club: “Don’t blame me if you go down”.
The Australian goalkeeper was the main reason Boro failed to claim three much-needed points against Fulham on Saturday, making three crucial saves as the Cottagers’ ploy of throwing bodies in the way of every shot on his goal lapsed temporarily.
But as important as his 10 minutes of work could prove, the man who left the Riverside on a free transfer last summer will feel no guilt if a club he still has affection for is playing in next season’s Championship.
When asked how he would feel if the Teessiders went down by two points, Schwarzer was emphatic.
“That’s got nothing to do with me,” he said. “I’m doing a job for Fulham FC. All I can do is play my best for my new club. I don’t think they’re going to go down on these two points. It’s on their performances over the 38 games.
“You can’t pinpoint one game and say, ‘OK, it’s your fault now because we took two points off them’. It’s a culmination of 38 games. The league table doesn’t tell lies, you’re in that position because of various reasons. If you’re not gaining the points each week, then you’re justifiably in that position.”
Middlesbrough bossed the game and deployed a shoot-on-sight policy. But it was not until the early stages of the second half that Schwarzer was pressed into serious action.
His best save was his first, diving right to knock away Tuncay’s firm header from a Jeremie Aliadiere cross. He pushed Stewart Downing’s effort over the bar, then reacted well to keep out Tony McMahon’s misdirected centre. Other than that, Boro’s attack matched the intensity of a fervent crowd, but were unable to finish it off.
The Cottagers actually went closest, with two efforts late in the first half. Brad Jones touched Simon Davies’ 29th-minute cross out of the path of the on-rushing strikers and soon afterwards Andrew Johnson clipped a shot off David Wheater and on to the inside of Jones’ post.
It places even greater importance on Boro’s next two matches – at Arsenal and at home to Manchester United. Having seen Fulham perform miracles this time last year, Gareth Southgate is keeping the faith.
“We do take encouragement from what Fulham did and what West Ham did the year before,” he said. “West Ham won at Arsenal and Manchester United in their run-in the year before. The team that gets out of it ends up picking up strange results and we know we’ll have to do that.” Downing was equally on-message. “The man of the match for me was Mark Schwarzer and that says it all,” he said. “I joked to him afterwards that he didn’t do that for us!
“We did everything but get that goal, hopefully we’ve saved it for the weeks coming up.
“We’re still confident, even with the position we’re in. We’re playing well and a lot of the teams around us aren’t doing that.”
Schwarzer’s clean sheet was scant reward for another positive Southgate selection which featured all five of his most talented attacking players.
“We’re trying to get as many of our potential goal-scorers in the team as we can,” he said. “We haven’t scored enough over the course of the season but, as we showed last week, we are capable.”
MIDDLESBROUGH: Jones; McMahon, Wheater, Huth, Taylor; Aliadiere, Bates, Tuncay, Downing; King, Alves (Johnson 86). Subs (not used): Hoyte, Riggott, Digard, Emnes, Shawky, Turnbull.
Booked: McMahon 4, Tuncay 37, King 82.
FULHAM: Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies (Gera 70), Etuhu, Murphy, Dempsey; Johnson (Kamara 87), Zamora. Subs (not used): Nevland, Kamara, Dacourt, Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Baird.
Booked: Konchesky 40.
Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).