Tag Archives: Middlesbrough

Premier League Files: Paul Wilkinson

Premier League Career: Middlesbrough (1992-1993, 1995-1996)

Paul Wilkinson played professional football for 18 years and even won four international Under-21 caps for England in the mid-1980s. He was a stereotypical target man who was not shy of tussling with defenders and coming out on top in some bruising battles over the years. Wilkinson also had a knack of finding that extra yard of space in the penalty area which probably explains why he scored more than 150 goals during his career in over 650 appearances.

Wilkinson was part of the last Everton squad that were champions of England back in the 1986-1987 campaign, scoring 12 times in their winning team that pushed Merseyside rivals Liverpool FC into second spot. He joined Middlesbrough in 1991 from Watford and was Lennie Lawrence’s last marquee signing at the club. He scored 24 goals in his debut season, including a final minute strike away at Molineux against Wolverhampton Wanderers which took Middlesbrough into the inaugural Premier League season as Division Two runners-up to Ipswich Town.

Wilkinson quickly found his feet in the newly-formed Premier League. On the opening weekend, he scored Middlesbrough’s first goal at this level; a 63rd minute effort in the 2-1 defeat at Highfield Road to Coventry City. A week later, he scored twice in the shock 4-1 defeat of reigning English champions Leeds United and reached double figures despite Boro’s relegation to Division One. By the time Middlesbrough won promotion again in 1995, Wilkinson had become a rarely used figure and he was eventually let go on a free transfer by Bryan Robson to make way for international talent to arrive on Teeside.

Barnsley signed him and he was recruited to play alongside his former colleague at Middlesbrough in John Hendrie. In April 1997, he scored one of the goals in the Tykes’ 2-0 win at home to Bradford City which secured their automatic promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history. However, he wouldn’t be going up with them – moving onto Millwall before winding down at Northampton Town in 2000.

Wilkinson moved straight into coaching. He has managed the reserve teams at Grimsby Town and Cardiff City and was Rob Page’s assistant manager during his brief tenure at Northampton. He is back at Blundell Park as Grimsby assistant currently to the experienced Russell Slade and looks set to become a manager in the future.

Shock Results: Middlesbrough 4-1 Leeds United (August 1992)

Goalscorers: Paul Wilkinson 7, 8, Tommy Wright 47, John Hendrie 59, Eric Cantona 68

Teams:

Middlesbrough: Ian Ironside, Chris Morris, Alan Kernaghan, Jimmy Phillips, Derek Whyte, Tommy Wright, Andy Peake, John Hendrie, Paul Wilkinson (Robbie Mustoe (45), Willie Falconer, Bernie Slaven (Jamie Pollock 77)

Leeds United: John Lukic, Jon Newsome (Gordon Strachan 45), Chris Fairclough, Tony Dorigo, Chris Whyte, David Batty (Steve Hodge) 76, Gary Speed, Gary McAllister, Lee Chapman, Eric Cantona, Rod Wallace

Referee: David Allison, Attendance: 18,649

Leeds United were the defending English top-flight champions and they were expected to turn up and produce another skilful and effective display against a newly-promoted team in Middlesbrough. Boro had finished runners-up to Ipswich Town in Division Two the previous term and were expected to struggle. However, they were coming off the back of a Bernie Slaven double that had beaten Manchester City in the midweek round of fixtures.

Leeds had a physical side not afraid of a battle but with the guile of Gary McAllister, finishing qualities of Lee Chapman and French flair in Eric Cantona, they also had the skill to unlock opposition defences. Instead, it was their backline that was made to look very ordinary, especially in the first 10 minutes.

New Middlesbrough signing Tommy Wright found some space out wide in the seventh minute. He delivered an inch-perfect cross and Paul Wilkinson slotted home from six-yards out, neatly getting ahead of his marker Chris Fairclough to open the scoring. That was his second of the season and his third would arrive just 60 seconds later.

Wright again was given bundles of space on the left-wing. Again, his cross was a dream and Wilkinson was once again on the end of it to produce a diving header that left John Lukic helpless. Lennie Lawrence’s side now had a two-goal lead to defend.

Leeds did create chances with Cantona giving the Boro defenders some headaches but even his shooting boots seemed to have been misplaced. Despite losing two-goal hero Wilkinson to an ankle ligament injury before half-time, confidence was at an all-time high within the Middlesbrough dressing room and they increased their lead just moments into the second half.

Jimmy Phillips’ corner was met by the impressive Wright, who deserved a goal for his huge contribution throughout. Lukic left completely flummoxed by the scoreline and the defensive display he was witnessing right infront of him. Was this just a very bad day for the reigning champions?

It got worse. John Hendrie made it 4-0 in the 59th minute. He went on a dribble and as the defenders backed off, encouraging him to shoot, that’s exactly what he did. Again, the finish was clinical and decisive. Cantona did pull a goal back with just over 20 minutes remaining but this was a reality check for Leeds and their manager, Howard Wilkinson. They would go through the entire season without winning a game away from Elland Road.

Afterwards, Lawrence admitted: “That was the most professional performance; I have ever been associated with.”

Relegation did follow at the end of the season but this still remains one of Middlesbrough’s finest 90 minutes in their Premier League life.

Iconic Moments: Boro’s deduction (December 1996)

Hopes were high at Middlesbrough when the 1996/1997 season got underway. UEFA Champions League winner Fabrizio Ravanelli had joined Brazilians Juninho, Emerson and Branco at the club. Bryan Robson was putting together a decent squad on Teeside.

It didn’t take long for that to fall apart though. Despite three wins from their opening five games, Boro went on a wretched run in the autumn and winter months and slipped towards a perilous relegation battle. Christmas 1996 looked like it would be a make-or-break period for the club.

On Saturday, 21 December 1996, the club were scheduled to make a trip to Ewood Park to play relegation rivals Blackburn Rovers. However at late notice, the game was postponed and it wasn’t down to the weather either. A flu bug had hit the Middlesbrough squad and the manager insisted he did not have enough players to fulfil the fixture due to illness and injury. 23 players were unavailable and the club had medical evidence to back their point up.

Blackburn were incensed at the postponement at 24 hours’ notice and the FA didn’t believe Robson and the club’s claim. Middlesbrough were charged and a month later, fined £50,000. The punishment didn’t end there either. The club were deducted three points which was the first time this happened in Premier League history.

Despite a revival towards the end of the season, Boro’s fixture pile-up having got to the League Cup and FA Cup final got the better of them. On the final day, a draw at Elland Road was not enough to keep them in the top-flight. They were relegated and finished two points adrift of safety. Chairman Steve Gibson revealed later that the team had gone down not on the field, but because of the decision of “three men in grey suits.” To top things off, the Teesiders lost both domestic cup finals that season.

Right or wrong of what happened; Middlesbrough’s no-show at Ewood would turn out to be a costly error.