JEAN TIGANA was left raging at referee Dermot Gallagher after Fulham were mugged by Middlesbrough.
Normally, the Craven Cottage boss does not say boo to a goose.
But even he lost his rag when he thought Boro defender Franck Queudrue escaped a red card with the score at 1-1.
To rub salt into the wounds, moments later sub Szilard Nemeth claimed a winner for the hosts 13 minutes from time.
Frenchman Tigana was livid - he even had to be restrained at the final whistle.
The controversy came when Queudrue, who had been booked earlier, attempted to block Barry Hayles' run on goal.
Gallagher stopped the play for a free-kick with Hayles favourite to score.
With everyone at The Riverside expecting a second yellow card to be brandished, Gallagher only gave Queudrue a slap on the wrist.
Tigana stormed: "It was a big mistake and I am very disappointed.
"We still had a chance to score but he stopped the game. But no yellow card!
"After the game I tried to speak to him, but he did not want to speak to me.
"It changed the game. I repeat it was the big mistake. If he had not stopped it, we can score."
And Fulham had another reason to feel hard-done-by.
Alen Boksic put Boro in the driving seat with a 27th-minute strike - although there was a strong case for offside against the Croatian.
Tigana was more diplomatic about this decision.
He said: "I never dispute offside decisions - it is part of the game - but that was a mistake too."
It looked like the Cottagers had gained at least a point when Steve Marlet hit a deserved 56th-minute leveller.
However, Nemeth gave Boro's Premiership campaign a major boost when he latched on to a Boksic pass before beating Fulham keeper Edwin van der Sar.
The result lifts the Teessiders five places and six points clear of third-bottom Blackburn.
It also means Boro have gone eight games without defeat in all competitions.
Fulham, who had lost only once in 2002 before last night, looked the more confident side during the opening stages.
John Collins and Sylvain Legwinski pulled the strings in midfield while Hayles and Marlet were sharp in attack.
Boro had to live off scraps to begin with.
But Benito Carbone gradually came to the fore as the hosts started to impose themselves.
Queudrue headed wide from a Carbone corner. But less than 90 seconds later, Boro did go in front.
Everyone inside the ground believed Boksic was five yards offside as he ran on to a sublime Carbone through ball.
Even the centre-forward hesitated - he could not believe his luck as the linesman waved play on.
And the former Lazio man ran on to chip Van der Sar from 12 yards for his seventh goal of the season.
The goal temporarily knocked the stuffing out of Tigana's men.
Boksic continued to test the linesman's eyesight - but, fortunately for Fulham, the same official was spot on with two borderline offside decisions.
Moments before half-time Carbone lifted an angled drive over while Marlet missed a chance at the other end.
However, the £11.5million striker made amends with a far-post header 10 minutes after the break.
He headed home a Steed Malbranque corner which was flicked on at the near post by Alain Goma.
Marlet was now on fire and in the 65th minute was only thwarted by a brilliant diving save from Mark Schwarzer.
Fulham dominated the second period and put the pressure on Boro's defence. But the home fans received some hope when Ugo Ehiogu hit the bar.
And then Nemeth, who had only been on the pitch for seven minutes, made sure Fulham left without a point.
MIDDLESBROUGH, regarded by many as a good bet for relegation, climbed to 11th in the Premiership last night thanks to a late winner by their Slovakian striker Szilard Nemeth.
Alen Boksic had set them on their way to a valuable victory which was threatened briefly when Steve Marlet equalised for a disappointing Fulham.
Boksic, rumoured to be at loggerheads with manager Steve McClaren because of his frequent absenteeism, had not started a match for nearly two months because of a calf injury and influenza but his return promised more exciting times at the Riverside as he forged a new striking partnership with Benito Carbone.
Providing the rest of the Boro squad work overtime to compensate for the luxury of two flamboyant attackers, it promises to be a spearhead which can ensure a Premiership future for the Riverside.
Carbone, offloaded by new Derby County manager John Gregory, should relish playing alongside the brilliant Croatian and he gave a hint of what lies ahead by providing the defence-splitting pass from which Boksic made the 27th-minute breakthrough.
Fulham's defence looked in vain for an offside flag as Boksic ran on to a clever reverse pass from the enigmatic Italian. Once given the all-clear - Rufus Brevett may have played him on - Boksic looked odds-on to score and he delayed his shot long enough for Edwin van der Sar to commit himself before effortlessly flicking the ball over the prostrate Dutch goalkeeper.
Carbone, whose corner had almost set up an earlier opener for left-back Franck Quedrue, should have given Boro a more commanding interval advantage after being located unmarked on the edge of the penalty area by Jonathan Greening's thoughtful pass. The situation was crying out for a left-footed finish but Carbone switched on to his right and shot wildly over.
That reprieve for Fulham came seconds before first-half stoppage time and Jean Tigana's men should have capitalised by equalising from their first real opening before the 45 minutes were up.
Steve Marlet, given a similarly generous offside ruling to the one Boksic had enjoyed, was clean through and rounded goalkeeper Mark Crossley before failing to hit the target from an awkward angle. Marlet made no mistake when the opportunity to notch only his third goal since his £11.5 million club-record signing from Lyons presented itself at the height of a second-half resurgence by the Londoners.
It was an equaliser made in France, Steed Malbranque's corner being cleverly flicked on at the near post for Marlet to head home unchallenged at the far post.
Marlet almost scored again soon afterwards when skilfully creating his own shooting position just outside the penalty area. It needed a world-class save from Mark Schwarzer to prevent Boro from falling behind.
Van der Sar could not match it 12 minutes from the end when Nemeth burst through nine minutes after appearing as an unpopular replacement for Carbone. The low shot from outside the area had an embarrassed goalkeeper checking where his near post was.
Van der Sar had been beaten moments earlier when an Ugo Ehiogu header from Greening's corner crashed against the crossbar as Boro showed the greater desire to take all three points.
Slovakian striker Szilard Nemeth came off the bench to fire Middlesbrough to a precious Premiership victory over Fulham.
The former Inter Bratislava frontman struck 13 minutes from time to send Boro to the relative comfort of 11th place in a tense encounter watched by just 26,235 at the Riverside Stadium.
Alen Boksic had given the Teessiders a 27th-minute lead with a coolly-taken finish, but once Steve Marlet levelled 11 minutes after the restart, the game was back in the melting pot.
However, Nemeth's intervention allowed Boro boss Steve McClaren to breathe a huge sigh of relief as his side edged closer to their survival target after a game they simply couldn't afford not to win.
The presence of Boksic and livewire Italian Benito Carbone were major factors, but again it was defensive solidity in the face of a second-half onslaught which laid the foundation for success.
The margin of victory could have been more comfortable had Ugo Ehiogu's 72nd-minute header not come back off the crossbar, but the England international had to produce a superb injury-time tackle on Marlet to deny the Londoners a second equaliser at the death.
Both sides went into the game with a reputation for conceding few goals but scoring not many more, and for that reason, the appearance of the names of leading scorer Boksic and Italian loan signing Carbone on the team-sheet was welcomed by another sparse crowd at the Riverside.
And the script was largely followed in the opening stages as on open game unfolded with few glaring chances and defences more or less on top.
It was 12 minutes before either keeper was called upon to make a save, Mark Schwarzer clutching Steed Malbranque's long-range effort into his midriff, but neither he nor Edwin van der Sar were unduly troubled for much of the opening period.
With Sean Davis prompting from deep in midfield and Marlet showing well in attack, Fulham played their usual brand of neat football, but Boro stood firm at the back and started to take control.
Carbone's movement and the efforts of full-backs Robbie Stockdale and Franck Queudrue to support the men ahead of them started to pay dividends, and it was no real surprise when they took the lead with 27 minutes gone.
Jonathan Greening and Paul Ince combined to give Carbone the time to pick out Boksic's forward run, and although he looked yards offside, he kept his composure to draw van der Sar and nonchalantly chip the ball over him for his seventh goal of the season.
The Teessiders grew in confidence as the half wore on and Carbone squandered two good opportunities to extend his side's lead.
But they almost threw away their advantage in injury time when Marlet was allowed to chase down a harmless looking long ball to round Schwarzer, although he lifted his shot from a tight angle wide of the mark.
If that was something of a let-off for the home side, they did not heed the lesson as the visitors emerged for the second half determined to force their way back into the game.
Malbranque had already produced a fine tackle from Ehiogu after a mazy run when central defensive partner Gareth Southgate conceded a 56th-minute corner under pressure from Marlet.
Collins curled the ball into the near post where Alain Goma flicked it on for the unchallenged Marlet to head home.
McClaren changed things around five minutes later when he replaced Robbie Mustoe with wing-back David Murphy and opted for a three-man defence, and his side were at sixes and sevens as the Londoners carved their way through at will.
Davis and Malbranque opened the Teessiders up once again on 65 minutes for Marlet to test Schwarzer with a curling drive, prompting McClaren to freshen it up once again with 20 minutes remaining by sending on Nemeth and Windass in place of Whelan and the tiring Carbone.
Ehiogu was unfortunate not to restore his side's lead two minutes later when he saw a powerful header from Greening's corner come back off the bar.
But the substitutions paid off on 77 minutes as Nemeth turned upon the left side of the penalty area to crash a low drive past van der Sar to restore his side's lead.
There was no let-up in pace as the minutes ticked away, but the home fans were on the edges of their seats deep into injury time when van der Sar launched a huge clearance into the Boro box.
The ball evaded Ehiogu and was brilliantly controlled by Marlet, but the defender recovered to get in a last-ditch tackle to protect his goal once again.
ONE small step for Middlesbrough, one giant leap up the table. In a match in which his side's performance veered between the proficient and the pathetic, Steve McClaren could celebrate last night moving into eleventh place in the FA Barclaycard Premiership, leaping ahead of five other clubs, but no team suffers more from a split personality.
While Fulham were left fuming by the inconsistencies of Dermot Gallagher, the referee - Jean Tigana, the manager, was called upon to restrain his players at the final whistle - here was another story of Middlesbrough's fight against themselves. They took and conceded the lead, worried themselves into incoherence, incurred the wrath of a crabby crowd and finally provided a scrappy, happy ending.
"This was a massive, massive win for us," McClaren said. Amid the pandemonium, the resilience was something to revel in. Middlesbrough not only climbed above Everton, Southampton, Ipswich Town, West Ham United and Sunderland, they are now nine points clear of second-bottom Derby County and beginning to contemplate safety.
"We've got to build on this," McClaren said. "Every game is a pressure game from here, but we're showing spirit and commitment. I can't criticise my players for anything."
There were similar sentiments, from Tigana, although Gallagher's frailties were a matter of revolt to the placid Frenchman. For him and, indeed, most impartial observers, the turning point came when Frank Queudrue, Middlesbrough's last defender, committed a foul and, with Barry Hayles about to shoot, a free kick was given. The complaints were two-fold; Queudrue had been booked and play should have continued.
"I don't understand why he (Gallagher) stopped the game, because we had the advantage," Tigana said. "We could have scored and it changed the game. Why was there no yellow card? If the player had been sent off, we could have put another striker on. I tried to ask the referee, but he didn't want to speak to me."
A bizarre episode was compounded by other mistakes, blatant or otherwise. While Tigana would not dwell on it, there was more than a hint of offside to Middlesbrough's first goal, scored in the 26th minute by Alen Boksic, pleasing to the eye though it was.
An attacking partnership of Boksic and Benito Carbone, paired together for the first time since the latter signed on loan from Bradford City, was viewed as a necessary gamble in the light of the Croatia striker's frustrating injuries and McClaren's inability to summon goals.
Boksic has seldom played with the vim and vigour that he dredged up against Fulham and, having run across the Fulham defence after collecting a diagonal pass from Carbone to check into the penalty area, his chip over Edwin van der Sar was exquisite.
Some effervescent football from McClaren's team, as well as a goal against the division's most niggardly club, had offered encouragement. There were flashes of brilliance from Carbone - whose substitution was roundly jeered - and perspiration, epitomised by Paul Ince, elsewhere, but, as so often in the past two years, hesitation was close behind.
As their nerves grew, triggered by an edgy crowd, Alain Goma headed on Steed Malbranque's inswinging corner in the 57th minute and Steve Marlet equalised, completely unmarked, from close range. The same combination might have mustered another goal shortly afterwards, had Mark Schwarzer not saved brilliantly from Marlet.
Suddenly Middlesbrough rediscovered themselves. Ugo Ehiogu struck the crossbar with a firm header and, in the 77th minute, Szilard Nemeth - irony of ironies, Carbone's replacement - capitalised on some fine work by Jonathan Greening and Boksic to tear forward and slip his shot inside the near post. Middlesbrough are unbeaten in their past eight matches but remain a team of contradictions.