MIDDLESBROUGH were handed an excellent second draw in the FA Cup this season after seeing off Ryman Premier Division minnows Hastings United.
It’s Aldershot next for Tony Mowbray’s men, with a place in the fifth round looking a probability.
The manager paid tribute to the plucky visitors on Saturday after his npower Championship side were forced to survive a few scares before easing to a 4-1 win at the Riverside.
Two goals from Merouane Zemmama and one each for Andy Halliday and Ishmael Miller saw Boro into round four, but Hastings teenager Bradley Goldberg struck a superb consolation while midfielder Lee Carey hit a post.
The Ryman Premier Division strugglers, ranked 131 places below their opponents in the league structure, trailed only to Zemmama’s opener at the interval after keeper Liam O’Brien saved an early Miller penalty.
Mowbray said: “It was a credit to them that they tried to play football right from the off. I was pleased for them that they scored a great goal in front of their supporters. It was nice to be able to congratulate them afterwards.
“It was a bit patchy from us but FA Cups are about going through to the next round.”
Boro were in total command for the first half hour. Miller and Halliday both missed early chances and Miller spurned the chance to put his side in front from the spot, trickling a feeble penalty which O’Brien saved low to his right after the striker had been pushed by Tom Vickers.
It was recalled midfielder Zemmama who finally grabbed the lead for Boro after 22 minutes when he curled the ball into the top corner from 25 yards.
But far from folding, Hastings managed to finish the first period with a flourish, Jack Dixon almost fashioning a shooting chance from a 34th-minute corner before Vickers denied Miller with a superb interception at the other end.
Hastings’ Jamie Crellin saw a goal-bound effort blocked out for a corner by Kevin Thomson in the 38th minute, then Goldberg hared through, rounded Steele and put the ball in the net before being pulled back for a marginal offside.
And on the stroke of half-time Hastings had their best chance yet when Bailo Camara sent in a dangerous cross from the right and Halliday almost deflected the ball past his own goalkeeper Steele, who parried it out for a corner.
But if the visitors went in at the break still with hope, it looked to have been shattered just two minutes after the interval when Halliday prodded in Boro’s second from a Luke Williams corner.
After Carey forced Steele into a superb one-handed save, Zemmama made it 3-0 to Boro in the 68th minute with a heavily deflected shot from the edge of the box.
But almost immediately after the restart, Hastings pushed forward through Goldberg, who bore down on goal before looking up and letting fly with a long-range effort which beat Steele and nestled in the top corner of the net.
Miller finally got on the scoresheet with five minutes to go when he drove the ball home low past O’Brien.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Halliday, Rhys Williams, Bailey, Parnaby (Haroun 73), Zemmama (Morris 82), Smallwood, Thomson, Reach, Miller, Luke Williams (Jones 61). Subs Not Used: Leutwiler, Jutkiewicz, McDonald, Burgess. Booked: Thomson. Goals: Zemmama 22, Halliday 47, Zemmama 68, Miller 85.
Hastings Utd: O’Brien, Whitehead, Vickers (Ellis 51), Ray, Cox (Manning 72), Carey, Jirbandey, Crellin, Dixon (Okojie 76), Camara, Goldburg. Subs Not Used: George Howard, Daly, Richardson, Abbot. Booked: Crellin, Vickers. Goals: Goldburg 69.
Att: 12, 579 Ref: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).