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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 26, 2006

Negative 'Boro escape with a point

The best form of defence is defence and attack is something only to be contemplated in moments of desperation. It is an entirely negative philosophy, but one that has often come to define Middlesbrough in recent seasons.

Two, four-goal UEFA Cup comebacks may have convinced some that Steve McClaren was a cavalier clone of Kevin Keegan, but the regulars at the Riverside knew otherwise. Gareth Southgate took over and seemed intent on something more progressive. Five months in, however, his side are similarly depressing.

Cloaked in negativity, they came for a point at Everton and, despite a singular lack of interest in anything more offensive, secured one.

'We showed incredible resilience really, particularly before half-time. There was some terrific last-ditch defending and we had bags of character,' enthused Southgate. It was true, at least of the central defensive partnership of Jonathan Woodgate and Emanuel Pogatetz, who merited their manager's description of 'fantastic'.

It could not be applied, in all honesty, to any of their team-mates. Though Middlesbrough fielded five midfielders, Everton were in control in the centre of the park. The most surprising selection was that of Gaizka Mendieta, granted a first start for three months. The Spaniard is expected to depart in the transfer window but, as an exercise in deterring potential employers, his performance of spectacular anonymity was an unqualified success.

It only lasted 45 minutes before Mark Viduka was introduced as a second striker. 'I felt we were back on our heels and you can either sit there and wait to be beaten or be more proactive,' explained Southgate, though his solitary concession to attack yielded a disallowed goal and Middlesbrough's clearest chance.

'I'd very much like him to be part of the future,' added Southgate, though Viduka's initial omission hardly suggested as much. Nor, for that matter, did his analysis of Woodgate's future stand up to scrutiny. 'We have to show him that our ambitions match his,' remarked the Middlesbrough manager after a particularly unambitious performance.

Instead, Middlesbrough came to stultify and succeeded. 'We have picked up points at Arsenal, Bolton, Villa and Everton, all very good home sides,' said Southgate, looking on the bright side. What was left unsaid was that Middlesbrough have not won on their travels in his reign, and it is a reason why they are attempting to extricate themselves from a relegation battle with such negative football.

They would, however, have been deeper in the mire had Everton been granted any of the four penalties for which they appealed. The earliest, and arguably the best, concerned Andrew Johnson and suggested that Jose Mourinho's initial impression is shared by the refereeing brethren.

The England striker may have received that rarest of things - a Mourinho apology - but he was not awarded a spot kick when, in the second minute, Andrew Taylor tugged him back as he challenged for Mikel Arteta's free kick.

Johnson opted not to take a tumble, confirming Everton's view that there is a gulf between an unwanted reputation and a more honest reality that has gone unrecognised. 'I thought it was one at the time,' said manager David Moyes.

'We would want them to stay on their feet. You just hope you'll get your rewards for doing it correctly. Andy reacted as though he had been pulled back. I thought it was one at the time. Everyone I've spoken to has said he has been held.'

Later, Arteta was denied when upended by Woodgate, the only tackle he misjudged all afternoon. 'We've given up. We don't even jump up and down on the touchline now,' sighed Moyes.

Nor, indeed, was there much for the supporters to jump up and down about though the highlight of the afternoon was provided by one of their number.

Andrew Mackey twice placed chipped shots from 18 yards on the bar at half-time to win his friend a car. He, at least, will have fond memories of when Middlesbrough came to town.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough) - Another classy display from the on-loan Real Madrid defender. 'There's no question of his ability. He's as good as anybody in the country,' said Southgate, and it was a comment that brooked no argument.

MOAN OF THE MATCH: Where to start? There are so many. Middlesbrough's attitude, however, has to be the main one.

EVERTON VERDICT: There was craft in midfield, particularly from Arteta, but not enough in the final third and while Moyes believes his team should be higher in the table, Everton can lack a cutting edge, with or without Johnson.

BORO VERDICT: On this evidence, they will enter each of their away games hoping for a draw. Their home form - and more of Steve Gibson's millions - are imperative if they are to preserve their Premiership status.

GOING NOWHERE: James Beattie, the subject of considerable speculation, will remain at Goodison Park if Moyes is to be believed. 'James is fine, and he definitely won't be sold in the window. He's not for sale,' he insisted.


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