|Season Opener: Middlesbrough Away|
|Sean Steals the Show|
Middlesbrough 1-1 Millwall Goals: Sheringham (28) Stephens (75)
By Rob Bowden at Ayresome Park
MILLWALL'S big-money signings Tony
Cascarino and George Lawrence found
themselves upstaged by a fresh-faced
teenager making his Football League
debut at Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Sean Sparham, thrown in at the deep end because of injuries to Nick Coleman and Danis Salman, performed with maturity way beyond his 18 years as Millwall kicked off their 1987-88 campaign in promising fashion.
An excellent debut by a very promising youngster,"was how Lions manager John Docherty summed up Sparham's performance after striding onto the pitch to give the teenage full back a congratulatory hug.
"I am delighted to have come up here and got a result, although I felt that we carved out enough chances to have won the match."
Veteran striker Archie Stephens' 75th minute equaliser may have taken the edge off Millwall's afternoon, but there were enough encouraging signs here to suggest that Docherty's men can make an impact on the Second Division promotion race.
Lawrence's hustling, bustling style looks certain to make him a big favourite with the Den fans and Cascarino showed flashes of the skill which brought him 30 goals and an Eire International call up last season.
David Byrne and Teddy Sheringham got through a phenomenal amount of work on the flanks and Alan McLeary and Alan Walker performed with their customary efficiency at the heart of the defence.
The only disappointing note came when Dave Mehmet, plagued by a hamstring injury for much of last season, was forced to limp off dejectedly after 27 minutes with a calf strain.
But that setback was swept aside a minute later with a goal that had Docherty leaping out of his dug-out and punching the air in a rare show of emotion.
Terry Hurlock's stubborn persistence in midfield won him a ball he really had no right to and when Tony Mowbray made a hash of trying to clear his cross, Teddy Sheringham cut inside coolly before firing past Steve Pears.
It was no more than Millwall deserved for their first half dominance, but the picturechanged dramatically after the break.
Lions 'keeper Brian Home was greeted by a hail of missiles from the louts behind his goal and after a trouble free first 45 minutes Millwall's reigning player-of-the-year suddenly found himself at the centre of the action.
First he tipped a Bernie Slaven cross over the bar, then he sprawled to his left to block a stinging shot from Gary Parkinson, as newly promoted Middlesbrough equaliser.
Hurlock, almost inevitably became the first Millwall player to receive one of the newly installed yellow cards,when his tigerish tackling finally upset referee Mr. Fitzharris in the 54th minute.
And Sparham came to Millwall's rescue with a superb saving header under pressure from Stephens as Boro buried their first half nerves and threatened to take control.
Millwall battled their way upfield just longenough for Lawrence to have a savage shot brilliantly saved by Pears and for and Sheringham to send a neat far post header whistling into the side netting.
But the Lions luck finally run out a quarter of an hour from the end when Mr. Fitzharris, who had shown a refreshing understanding of the 'advantage' rule all afternoon, allowed Slaven to play on after Gary Hamilton had been flattened by a combination of Briley and Byrne.
Slaven picked out Stephens with a pin point cross and the Middlesbrough marksman, who according to his manager Bruce Rioch has been suffering from 'old age' during Boro' pre-season training, powered a diving header past Horne with the athleticism of a 16-year-old.
RATINGS: Horne *****, Stevens ***, Sparham *****, Hurlock ***, Walker ***, McLeary ****, Lawrence ***, Mehmet ***, Sheringham ****, Cascarino **, Byrne ****,
Sub: Briley (for Mehmet 27) ***
Sub not used: Morgan
Middlesbrough: Pears, Glover, Cooper, Mowbray, Parkinson, Paillister, Slaven, Stephens, Hamilton, Kerr, Ripley.
Subs (not used) Kernaghan, Proudlock.
Referee: T Fitzharris. Bookings: Hurlock
Match Rating 4