FOR one fleeting moment, Middlesbrough's travelling fans thought their interminable wait for an away goal was finally over.

Then, a linesman's flag and the referee's whistle brought them back to reality.

Had skipper Gareth Southgate's close-range effort counted, it would surely have been the most notable event of this FA Cup third-round tie at Stamford Bridge. As it was, the sight of a Boro player actually hitting the back of the net away from home was instantly lost in the frantic aftermath of the game's real talking point.

Not only did the ball end up in the net, but so too did the protagonists at the centre of the incident in question - Boro's stand-in striker Dean Windass and Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.

Veteran Windass, surplus to requirements not so long ago when he was farmed out on loan to Sheffield United, was preferred to not only Boro's record £8.15m buy Massimo Maccarone, but also the club's highest wage-earner, £63,000-a-week Alen Boksic.

Manager Steve McClaren's admission that Boro were in need of "energy, attitude, passion, character and commitment'', served as a damning indictment on the recent efforts of Italian Maccarone and Croatian Boksic.

Tough-as-teak Tyke Windass showed them what was needed. The 33-year-old leapt at Franck Queudrue's 63rd-minute free-kick and clattered Maccarone's countryman Cudicini.

What followed was a frenzied free-for-all in the Chelsea net, where Cudicini appeared to lift his leg at the prone Windass.

Referee Mark Halsey had to work hard to restore order. Once he did, Windass was booked and, to the astonishment of everyone in the Blue corner, not least Cudicini, Halsey raised a straight red card at the keeper.

Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri confirmed that his club will appeal against what looked a harsh decision.

While Windass's challenge may have been a little reckless, it was nevertheless evidence of his whole-hearted approach.

McClaren said: "Dean has been injured a good part of the season and to gain fitness he went to Sheffield United.

"Since he's come back, he's been involved in the squad. We thought this was the perfect chance to pitch him in. We needed energy in the team and you want someone who is going to battle whenever you go away from home.

"You need attitude and character and Dean epitomised that for us here.

"He puts himself about and that's what we needed in this game. He did well for us.

"We said to him when he came back from Sheffield United that we had five games in 14 days and after that we'd reassess things.''

Following this performance, McClaren would do well to stick with the likes of Windass and Noel Whelan, who returned from injury as a half-time replacement for Joseph Job, and keep Maccarone and Boksic in cold storage.

McClaren admits that Boro "can't buy'' a goal away from home. They went into this tie having lost and failed to score in their last seven Premiership away games; their last goal on their travels came two matches into that sequence in the 3-1 Worthington Cup defeat at Ipswich.

"We need to get burned once in a while, but we're getting burned a lot, especially away from home,'' conceded McClaren.

"But in our last three away games now we've only lost 1-0, we've created chances and given as good as we've got.

"It's a strange one to explain why we're not scoring away from home. We've tried to find the answer in different permutations.''

While McClaren maintained he had started with three frontmen against Chelsea - Windass, Job and Szilard Nemeth - Boro's shape was basically 4-5-1 in an opening period which saw Chelsea dominate and squander half-a-dozen good chances before taking a deserved 39th-minute lead.

A poor clearance from Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer was won by Emmanuel Petit in an aerial duel with substitute Colin Cooper, who had come on when Mark Wilson was injured early in the game.

Petit squared the ball to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who found Mario Stanic on the left, and the Croatian midfielder's drive beat Schwarzer at his near post.

"We've conceded another scrappy goal that could have been avoided, but that seems to have been the story of our away games this season,'' complained McClaren.

Boro managed only two shots at goal in the first half, neither of them on target.

They should have levelled on the hour when the diligent Stuart Parnaby centred and Windass miscued over the bar from no more than 12 yards.

But even after Cudicini's dismissal, Chelsea almost made the game safe when substitute Boudewijn Zenden's shot shaved a post.

Boro finally forced a save in the 87th minute when substitute keeper Ed de Goey had to turn away Geremi's powerful drive.

Geremi, Cooper and Southgate then missed further chances in stoppage time as Boro battled to pull the game out of the fire.

But as McClaren says himself, they keep getting burned.

Result: Chelsea 1 Middlesbrough 0.

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