Football: Middlesbrough aim high and miss target again

Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 0
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The Independent Online
They are a resilient lot down at the Riverside, if not (for the time being, at least) a Brazilian lot. After all the body blows Middlesbrough have taken on and off the field in recent weeks, Keith Lamb, their chief executive, declared in Saturday's match programme that Boro "could be world club champions in another 10 years".

The cynics might suggest they have more chance of being world pub champions but you have to admire the boldness of Boro, if not quite the extent of their seemingly outrageous ambition. They were, after all, on the scrapheap 10 years ago, reflecting back on which was the context for Lamb's projected progression 10 years hence.

Just four months ago, when Fabrizio Ravanelli pulled his shirt over his head three times on his debut (and Middlesbrough's legionnaires were too busy counting their pay packets to turn up their noses at the Teesside air), a place in Europe was Bryan Robson's declared aim for the season.

He may yet get there, via a cup win at Wembley, but a place in the Premiership has become Boro's revised priority. Having collected a mere four points in 12 weeks now, the form book says they have more chance of playing at Swindon or Stoke than in the San Siro next season.

As he watched another two points slip away on Saturday, Robson's frustration must have been compounded by the gnawing conviction that in Juninho, Ravanelli and Emerson he has three players who would not be out of place in a world champion club side.

Leeds made hard enough work of containing a Middlesbrough side missing six regulars but lacking nothing in application. With the midfield driving force of the absent Emerson, and in particular the perpetual probing of the injured Juninho (who was too elusive for Manchester United and Newcastle two weeks ago), Boro would in all probability have claimed their first League victory since their 2-1 success at Everton on 14 September.

Had Nigel Martyn not been in such fine form, Ravanelli and Jan Age Fjortoft might have won the game for them anyway. Instead, they prepare to return to Merseyside praying their boys from Brazil will be present and correct (minus sick notes) at Anfield this Saturday.

Faced with Tottenham at home on the same afternoon, George Graham will hopefully encourage a more adventurous approach from his team than he did on Teesside. An away point, a clean sheet, and a half-way line barely broached was a fair summary of Leeds' minimalist contribution to the contest.

"A hard-earned draw," Graham called it, balking at suggestions that Tony Yeboah's introduction might have turned one point into three.

It was tempting to scoff at the limit of such ambitions. Then again, you have to learn how to crawl away with a hard-earned point before you can walk off with things like championships - of England, let alone the world.

Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Walsh; Liddle, Cox, Whelan, Whyte, Fleming; Stamp, Mustoe, Hignett; Ravanelli, Fjortoft. Substitutes not used: Freestone, Morris, Campbell, Summerbell, Roberts (gk).

Leeds United (3-5-2): Martyn; Wetherall, Palmer, Beesley; Kelly, Ford (Jackson, 77), Bowyer, Radebe, Sharpe; Rush, Deane. Substitutes not used: Harte, Couzens, Jackson, Yeboah, Beeney (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow). Bookings: Middlesbrough: Ravanelli, Mustoe, Stamp. Leeds: Bowyer, Kelly, Palmer.

Man of the match: Martyn. Attendance: 30,018.