Football: Boro close ranks

Portsmouth 0 Middlesbrough 0 Attendance: 17,003
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The Independent Online
AS SCORELESS draws go, this was a stirring, passionate match, which provided enough spectacle to make up for a lack of genuine quality. The Portsmouth manager, Alan Ball, admitted that he would have accepted a point before the game and Boro were also not too disappointed, despite relinquishing the League lead once again to Nottingham Forest. Boro's recent signing, Neil Maddison, said: "The whole team was on a high after Wednesday's 6-0 victory, but we have conceded nine goals in our last two away games and this point could be vital at the end of the season."

Meanwhile, Portsmouth continue to inch their way to safety after propping up the table for most of January and February. Alan Ball's arrival has coincided with a run of seven games without defeat and they could well have pinched all three points yesterday were it not for a missed penalty by Alan McLoughlin on the stroke of half-time.

Pompey had marginally the better of a scrappy and, occasionally, bad- tempered first half. The bulk of Pompey's better work came from David Hillier who showed some neat touches and composure on the ball to change the direction of play with some sweeping passes down the flanks. He also came close to scoring when a 20-yard drive went narrowly wide.

Portsmouth's Australian striker, John Aloisi, also caused Boro problems with his pace and ability to turn quickly. Aloisi was free in the area but running away from goal when the goalkeeper, Marlon Beresford, playing in only his second match after being signed from Burnley, needlessly brought him down with an ill-timed lunge. Beresford was booked but immediately made amends by saving McLoughlin's weak, side-footed strike.

Boro were more impressive in the second half with a sustained period of possession and pressure. Michael Thomas, on loan from Liverpool, provided a steadying influence in front of the back four and Paul Merson showed glimpses of inspiration and vision without quite managing to deliver the telling ball. Merson came closest to scoring five minutes after the interval when his chip over Aaron Flahavan was volleyed off the line by Adrian Whitbread.

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