BORO brought back the noise to the Riverside last night with a polished FA Cup performance that gave their gagged fans every reason to break the cheering ban.
Riverside chiefs had caused a storm after handing diehards a letter asking them to keep the noise down, but the team made it impossible not to roar in appreciation in a pulsating victory over West Ham in a one-sided fifth round replay.
Gareth Southgate’s stuttering side made a mockery of their league form – they have gone 14 games without a win – as they booked a quarter-final trip to Everton in style.
Sparkling Stewart Downing gave them an early lead then Tunçay Sanli added another in a fantastic first half in which the visitors had no answer to Boro’s movement and attacking intent.
The Teessiders got off to a flying start and gave their fans reason to break the cheering ban as they got a fifth-minute opener.
They won a dangerous free-kick just outside the box and Stewart Downing – who had got the first-half Boro goal in the original 1-1 draw at Upton Park – cracked an unstoppable curling free-kick into the top right-hand corner.
It was the first Boro goal the Riverside crowd had had a chance to celebrate since Afonso Alves scored in the 1-1 Premiership derby draw with Sunderland back on January 10.
That galvanised Boro and they went close again on 12 minutes as Jeremie Aliadiere and Tunçay combined to carve open the West Ham defence before the Turk chipped into the box for Downing to chest the ball back.
Julio Arca arrived unmarked to rifle in a shot but it flew straight into keeper Green’s arms.
And on 16 minutes, they went closer still as alert Downing stole in to cut out a stray pass across the Hammers back line from Upson then cut into the box to sent a low shot screaming just beyond the far post.
And the pressure told as Boro got their second on 19 minutes as Tunçay pounced on another defensive mistake. O’Neil sent a neat ball from wide on the right towards Aliadiere, who had broken into the box, and although defender Tomkins stretched high to cut it out, the ball rolled loose for Tunçay to power a first-time low effort beyond Green’s dive.
West Ham did have a good spell midway through the first half and, after a period of possession, they finally tested Boro keeper Brad Jones on 23 minutes as Kovac sent in a shot after a goalmouth scramble – but the Aussie shot-stopper went full length to save. But confident Boro started to turn on the style with some composed close control and fluid passing moves that pinged the ball from side to side, and several times they threatened to prise open what was starting to look a porous Hammers defence.
They almost broke through again on 33 minutes when, after another incisive raid down the left, Downing floated in a cross that was missed by two defenders and keeper Green had to come sliding out to collect before unmarked O’Neil could arrive at the far post.
And the game should have been wrapped up three minutes before the break as, after a neat move down the other flank, Downing superbly cushioned an O’Neil cross to the far post and laid it back for Tunçay, but he sent his 12-yard effort sizzling over.
The one-way traffic continued after the break as Boro went close within three minutes when full-back Justin Hoyte burst forward then picked out fellow former Arsenal man Aliadiere in the box, but his shot on the turn was deflected behind by Tompkins. Then a quick breakout after a West Ham corner saw Downing leave trailing defenders in his wake as he broke forward then put in a dipping shot towards the top corner that sent Green back-pedalling to collect.
The Hammers upped the tempo for a spell and won a series of corners as they chased the game and there were some scrappy moments in and around the Boro box.
The East Enders went close to pulling one back on the hour as substitute striker Di Michele weaved through the middle and slotted a ball to the edge of the box for Parker to send a low effort fizzing just wide.
But Boro were coping with the visitors’ disjointed attacks and still looked sharp going forward themselves, and they almost had a third on 67 minutes when Hoyte streaked forward and teed up O’Neil to push a ball into the box for Aliadiere, but the keeper was out quickly to save at his feet.
And in a final flurry, Matthew Bates made an unlikely weaving run forward before squaring for Tunçay to fire in a low shot that sent Green full length to push behind, and Adam Johnson tricked into the box but drilled across the face of goal.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Jones, Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz, O’Neil, Bates, Arca (Walker 88), Downing, Sanli (Adam Johnson 81), Aliadiere (Emnes 67). Subs (not used): Turnbull, Taylor, Alves, McMahon.
Booked: O’Neil. Goals: Downing 5, Sanli 20.
WEST HAM: Green, Neill, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga, Behrami, Parker, Noble (Collison 56), Kovac (Tristan 69), Cole, Sears (Di Michele 57). Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Lopez, Nsereko, Spector.
Referee: Steve Bennett (Kent) Attendance: 15,602