Boro settle for draw after Festa succumbs to red mist

Southampton 1 Middlesbrough 1
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The Independent Football

Two sides edging towards the Premiership's comfort zone failed to secure one of the two victories that would effectively make them safe in a game of modest quality. A win for either team would have put them in the upper half of the table for the first time this season.

Middlesbrough, beaten only once in 11 games now, were much the happier with the draw, having fallen behind in the first half and then having Gianluca Festa sent off for the second time in five weeks shortly after hauling themselves level.

Until that incident, which prompted them to settle for a single point, the visitors had been more positive than in many of their previous away games, with Benito Carbone floating just behind Alen Boksic, and Noel Whelan pushing up on the left when his team had possession. If anything, they had slightly the better of the few chances at either end before Southampton stole the lead in the 39th minute. Ugo Ehiogu was caught out, not for the first time, by the lively Brett Ormerod, who cut the ball back to give Anders Svensson an easy side-footed shot into the net.

Even Southampton's manager Gordon Strachan, buoyed by a 3-1 victory at Ipswich on Saturday, was not expecting many goals, so he must have been pleased to be delivering his half-time talk to a team leading 1-0. But Carbone, foraging deep, propelled Middlesbrough back into the game before they went down to 10 men. Eight minutes after the resumption he won back possession and fed Whelan, whose square pass was hit carelessly wide by Boksic. Four minutes later the little Italian picked out the unmarked Whelan again for a volley past Paul Jones.

On the hour, however, Festa played the stereotypical Italian defender, and could not complain about receiving a red card for blatantly holding Marsden back as the Southampton captain won the ball. Boro, already missing the injured Paul Ince, sacrificed Boksic for a defender, Southampton brought on their leading scorer Marian Pahars as an extra attacker and the pattern was set for the remaining 25 minutes. The home side pressed consistently without finding a way through a dense thicket of a defence, Rory Delap heading a clear chance wide from a cross by Pahars, who was denied in the final minute of stoppage time by Schwarzer's leaping save.

Having conceded only eight goals in 14 games since the New Year, Boro have ground their way towards another season among the élite and will be optimistic about Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final at home to Everton. "We've shown resilience and character all season ­ and we had to tonight," said their manager Steve McClaren.

Southampton (4-4-2): Jones 5; Telfer 4, Lundekvam 5, Williams 6, Bridge 7; Svensson 6 (Pahars 7, 67), Oakley 5, Delap 4, Marsden 6; Davies 5, Ormerod 6. Substitutes not used: Moss (gk), Monk, Tessem, Fernandes.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer 5; Festa 4, Southgate 7, Ehiogu 3, Queudrue 3; Greening 6, Mustoe 5, Wilkshire 5, Whelan 7; Carbone 7, Boksic 5 (Stockdale 5, 62). Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Nemeth, Windass, Debève.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield) 7.