Home debuts do not come much better than the one delivered yesterday by Massimo Maccarone, Middlesbrough's record £8.15million signing from Empoli.
Chants of 'Supermac' resounded around the Riverside as the young Italian striker scored twice, missed out on staking a claim for one of the goals of the season and was then denied by the legs of goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. No wonder manager Steve McClaren had a big smile on his face as Maccarone terrorised a Fulham defence which caved in after playing for half an hour with considerable authority.
But McClaren's expression turned to horror as, incredibly, Fulham rescued a point when all seemed lost when his own defence suddenly leaked like a sieve, conceding two late goals.
With a minute of normal time left, the unmarked Sean Davis pulled a goal back from inside the six-yard box and 60 seconds later substitute Facundo Sava was also unchallenged as he drove the ball in from 10 yards.
All this after Maccarone had received a standing ovation when he was brought off eight minutes from the end, his job apparently done.
Fulham, drawing confidence from a run of seven successful InterToto Cup matches followed by a 4-1 win over Bolton Wanderers on the opening day of the season, had stroked the ball with great aplomb, usually through Davis, for the first half an hour.
Then, twice in a minute, they were their own worst enemies. First, Sylvain Legwinski headed over Steed Malbranque's corner from a good near-post position.
Middlesbrough broke away, Andy Melville failed to to cope with Maccarone's presence and was punished by an emphatic finish from a dozen yards which left Van der Sar with no chance of redeeming the mistake.
Louis Saha was even more wasteful at the far upright when Steve Marlet picked him out with a cross and was shown how to do it after the interval by Maccarone whose header flew into the roof of the net after the impressive Jonathan Greening wriggled his way to the baseline.
When Maccarone left Melville on his backside, swerved round Alain Goma and angled his shot just wide of the far post, Middlesbrough looked to be in sufficient control to make light of the miss.
And their position seemed even more secure when Maccarone swivelled on to another Greening cross and saw his shot ricochet away off Van der sar.
But all credit to Fulham, who never stopped plugging away and got the most unlikely of rewards.
Their assistant manager Christian Damiano described the result as a 'beautiful draw'. He added: 'Perhaps Middlesbrough lost their focus at the end, but I thought that we deserved a point.'
A star was born on Teesside as the £8.1m Italian import Massimo Maccarone departed in the 83rd minute. Adulation was deservedly pouring from the terraces on to his bald head, as he had scored two goals on his home debut to put his team in an apparently unassailable position.
But within six minutes, that star had been eclipsed as Middlesbrough's hitherto unflappable defence fell apart and allowed Fulham to share the points by scoring twice inside 60 seconds.
"There's shock and there's devastation,'' the Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, said. "But that's football. It teaches you lessons. We will lick our wounds and walk away.''
It was truly extraordinary. Fulham looked as if they would not score all season. But, in the 89th minute, Rufus Brevett's low cross from the left caused consternation to Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu, who until then had looked unbeatable. Louis Saha missed the ball, a ricochet fell to Shaun Davis, and he tucked away an unlikely goal.
In the next move, Steve Finnan's low cross from the right caused further flapping in Boro's rearguard. Southgate, already grounded, hacked clear only for the ball to hit a red shirt and bounce back. Ehiogu, amazed at what was happening, stood frozen with fear and the Argentinian substitute Facundo Sava tucked away the equaliser.
"Middlesbrough played a good game but as they lost focus we had the ability to react quickly to the two chances and we arrived at a beautiful draw,'' Fulham's assistant manager, Christian Damiano, said.
To be fair, Fulham had racked up eight corners in the first half and, with Sylvain Legwinski winning everything in midfield, and Davis calmly directing play, they were the more composed side for the first half hour.
How Boro missed the snap and snarl of the departed Paul Ince in the middle. The normally docile Jonathan Greening was the home side's most aggressive player, as he duelled with Brevett. In the 31st minute, however, seconds after Legwinski had powered Fulham's first chance just over, Greening's cross caught Brevett.
The bounce skimmed off Andy Melville's scalp and fell to Maccarone on the penalty spot. Last week, the 22-year-old Italian had been withdrawn after 75 minutes of his disappointing debut at Southampton; this week, he fired unarguably home, wrong-footing Edwin van der Sar in the process.
Suddenly at home on Teesside, the Italian than danced around four defenders and whipped in a wicked cross, although he did finish the first half by disappointingly misjudging a return ball to Alen Boksic at the end of a thrilling Boro break.
But in the 50th minute Greening burst onto a pass from Carlos Marinelli. The former Manchester United player drove to the by-line and flighted in a cross with his left foot to the near post, where the bald head of the former Empoli player powerfully headed in the second goal.
Maccarone nearly completed his hat-trick four minutes later. He caught Melville dawdling 40 yards out and was soon bearing down on goal. With a skilful shuffle of his feet, he out-witted Alain Goma, drew Van der Sar but pushed his shot wide.
"I'm trying to reflect on the whole 90 minutes and, for 75 to 80 of them, I was very very pleased,'' said McClaren. "We were 2-0 up and could have scored three, four or five.''
Then came the disappointment. Time was running out, the plot winding down as McClaren made his substitution, withdrawing Maccarone, who had just banged another chance straight at Van der Sar's legs, to a standing ovation. That was Fulham's cue to rewrite the headlines.
Middlesbrough record buy Massimo Maccarone deserved to be a matchwinner after marking his Premiership home debut with two goals and leaving the Riverside pitch with just six minutes left.
Yet few among the 28,588 crowd could believe what happened next, as Fulham midfielder Sean Davis scored with a minute to go then substitute Facundo Sava snatched an improbable equaliser.
An expectant Riverside, robbed of watching the Premiership return of their prodigal son, Juninho, through an injury that an American surgeon has been entrusted with treating next week, urged Maccarone to be their new talisman.
The stocky 22-year-old Italian, partnered by Alen Boksic, found Fulham's five-man defence a smothering challenge early on.
Frenchman Sylvian Legwinski, whose two goals on the opening day helped Fulham to demolish Bolton 4-1, should have scored on 30 minutes.
He made a perfect run into unguarded territory to reach Steed Malbranque's corner, but headed over the crossbar.
There was no such wastefulness from Maccarone in the 32nd minute. Jonathan Greening's cross into the area was inadequately dealt with by Fulham captain Andy Melville, giving the Italian time to turn and time to turn and shoot low and hard from 12 yards past goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.
Everything seemed to click into place for Boro at the start of the second half as Maccarone scored his second goal and nearly grabbed a third within 10 minutes.
Boksic set up George Boateng for a shooting chance that Van der Sar gathered cleanly. But the Dutch goalkeeper was beaten at the near post in the 50th minute when Maccarone headed in Greening's cross.
Maccarone's pace and power merited a hat-trick but his finishing let him down in the 55th minute as he shot tamely across goal.
The striker received an ovation as he left the field in the 84th minute. But after the white-booted Davis had pulled a goal back, the crowd were stunned into silence when Sava's tap-in saved a point in added time.
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Boro's £8.1million man grabbed a goal in each half to ease the huge pressure on his own shoulders.
But Fulham hit back with two in the last minute of normal time to snatch a point they barely deserved.
Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren could barely believe it. He said: McClaren said: "There's a bit of shock and devastation at the moment.
"But that's football. Sometimes it teaches you harsh lessons and we got one today.
"But I got a fantastic reaction from the players. They were angry and not very pleased with each other and that's what I wanted to see. I want to make sure that feeling doesn't go away so they will know what to do next time."
He added: "We could have scored three, four or even five.
"We had so many opening but I knew that with Fulham being in the Intertoto Cup they would be strong and come at us in the final third. With 10 minutes to go they threw everything at us and we paid for our lack of concentration.
He added: "Maccarone was disappointed not to get a hat-trick. He ran his legs off and I thought his linking up with Alen Boksic was excellent. We looked a very good team.
"We were solid in defence and creative in midfield but we are a new team, relatively young with lessons to learn."
"We're on two points and unbeaten but it could so easily have been four."
Fulham assistant manager Christian Damiano insisted his side deserved a share of the points.
He said: "We had the ability to react with quality and in the end it was a beautiful draw."
"We deserved a draw. We had many corners and set-pieces and for us it is fantastic. The point will give us more confidence and hope for the future."
Middlesbrough boss McClaren had begged his side's impatient fans to give Maccarone time to find his feet before the start of this game.
Their patience was rewarded with an excellent all-round display. The Italian's movement and pace and his ability to twist and turn defenders was superb as he gave Fulham captain Andy Melville a torrid afternoon.
Maccarone broke the deadlock following a dreadful opening half hour from both sides.
The under-21 international pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area and thundered a left-foot shot past Fulham goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.
Maccarone's second on 50 minutes was even better and owed much splendid work from Jonathan Greening.
The former Manchester United midfielder weaved his way down the left-hand side before flashing over a swirling cross of which his former team-mate David Beckham would have been proud.
Maccarone met the ball with a bullet header which flew past van der Sar into the net.
Boro were in control from then on but were undone with a double bolt from the blue right at the end.
When Sean Davis netted from close range Fulham's small band of travelling fans thought they at least had a consolation to cheer them on the long trip home.
But they were still celebrating when Argentine substitute Facundo Sava took advantage of confusion in a shell-shocked Boro defence to grab a point.