Football: Middlesbrough missing the beat

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 0

Leeds United 0

Attendance: 30,018

There was a time when Brazilian fever had a rather different meaning on Teesside than homesick spouses and ailing aunts. The last time Leeds made the short trip to Middlesbrough, for instance, the Riverside positively rocked to the samba beat. Juninho conjured a goal for Jan Age Fjortoft with virtually the first touch on his debut and the world and his wife (healthy, or otherwise) wanted to know about Boro and their boy from Brazil.

Yesterday, with Branco gone, Juninho injured, and Emerson nursing his infirm family back in Rio, Fjortoft and Fabrizio Ravanelli did their best to keep the home fires burning by the banks of the Tees. Between them, they fashioned enough chances to have eased Middlesbrough's growing Premiership pains. Each one, though, was frittered away, leaving Boro without a league win in 11 matches now and - for the time being, at least - without a Brazilian in gainful employment.

George Graham, in his present job at least, has taken a rather different tack to Bryan Robson, who must wish he had never dealt with foreign agents or sought players from far away places. John Scales, Harrogate lad and one-time Leeds junior, will not arrive as Graham's first major signing at Elland Road until tomorrow at the earliest, but building from the back - always rule number one in the Graham management book - was writ large across the visitors' approach yesterday.

Battoning down the hatches was their obvious intent before the break and, even after it, making a point secure was their priority. It seemed a strange approach, given the absence from the Middlesbrough team of six first-choice players and the fact that Leeds in effect finished off Chelsea in 10 minutes at Elland Road last Sunday. To Graham, however, it was a logical exercise. Not for the first time, on "foreign" territory at least, he departed saying: "I was pleased with the clean-sheet and the draw." Any other manager might have lamented his team's failure to create a clear chance. The sum total of Leeds' attacking endeavour was a long-range shot by Carlton Palmer that barely reached Gary Walsh, let alone troubled him, and a miscued header early in the second half by Lee Bowyer.

Middlesbrough, with only three points since mid-September, could not afford to sit back. Fjortoft, starting his first game of the season, struck a flashing drive on the turn that very nearly caught Nigel Martyn napping midway through the first-half and might have have beaten the Cornishman after cutting in from the left with 14 minutes to go.

There was no lack of effort from Ravanelli either. He tested Martyn with a couple of left-foot howitzers before the break and pleaded with all his Latin passion for a penalty eight minutes into the second half. After turning Palmer on the left edge of the area, though, he was clearly dispossessed by the former England man's text-book covering tackle.

It was two points lost for Robson, who said afterwards: "We're hopeful Emerson will be back next week - hopefully with his wife." Hope, it seems, still springs eternal down at the Riverside.