Boro saved by Alpay's blunder

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The Independent Football

Perhaps the tide is beginning to turn at the Riverside Stadium. After making a habit of throwing away winning leads, Middlesbrough discovered that they do not have a monopoly on self-destruction when an Aston Villa own goal in the 90th minute handed them a point their dismal performance scarcely deserved.

Perhaps the tide is beginning to turn at the Riverside Stadium. After making a habit of throwing away winning leads, Middlesbrough discovered that they do not have a monopoly on self-destruction when an Aston Villa own goal in the 90th minute handed them a point their dismal performance scarcely deserved.

Ugo Ehiogu, who watched the game from the Villa bench, must have been doubting the wisdom of taking up Bryan Robson's offer of a £8m move to Teesside, as his potential employers failed to impress.

They had scarcely engineered a shot on target when Villa belatedly took the lead after 74 minutes and Boro, again, seemed determined to conspire in their own downfall.

Dion Dublin charged down an attempted clearance by the on-loan goalkeeper Garry Walsh and the second-half substitute Julian Joachim tapped the loose ball into an empty net for his first goal of the season.

In truth, Villa should not have needed such charity. Dublin had already rattled the crossbar with a powerful header from Lee Hendrie's cross and Paul Merson had done enough on his return to Teesside to show the home side what they were missing.

With Paul Ince still struggling to find his form, and with no Juninho or Christian Ziege, Merson's creativity and ability to conjure something out of nothing was exactly what Robson's side are missing.

After an error-strewn first half in which Gareth Barry, David Ginola and Steve Stone all had chances to put Villa ahead, Robson did manage to coax a little urgency from Boro at the start of the second half.

Alen Boksic contrived to get in the way of a shot from his striking partner, Joseph-Désiré Job, and failed to make the most of a couple of other decent chances.

And they should have restored parity immediately after Villa scored. David James, who continues to show signs of the Bruce Grobbelaar school of goalkeeping long after leaving Liverpool, fluffed an attempted save and Stone headed Boksic's shot off the goal-line.

The introduction of Noel Whelan failed to provide the penetration Boro lacked and it was left to another substitute, Carlos Marinelli, to rescue them at the death.

His cross from the right seemed to be going nowhere useful until Villa's Turkish full-back Alpay Ozalan, lunged at the ball and turned it past the stranded James and into his own net.

Villa's manager, John Gregory, said: "The game should have been over by then, but we didn't make the most use of the chances we had and it enabled them to nick one at the death."

Robson said: "Villa were the better team in the first half, but after the interval we turned the tables and were always the team most likely to score."

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