Liverpool draw a blank at Riverside

Middlesbrough 0 Liverpool 0
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The Independent Football

Nil in the net, not a single shot on target - nor anywhere near if the truth be told - but much endeavour to entertain. And, in the end, it boiled down to a tale of two tackles that saved goals that might have been penalties; one by Djimi Traoré that was as clean as a whistle and another by Franck Queudrue which was as murky as the water in the nearby River Tees.

Traoré's came in the 29th minute when Gaizka Mendieta was sent scampering goalwards. As the Spaniard reached the area, the French defender stretched out a long, long left leg and kicked the ball away. The pair of them collided painfully with Chris Kirkland, but as the home crowd screamed in dismay the referee turned away.

Queudrue's tackle came late in the game when Florent Sinama-Pongolle - on for a tiring Michael Owen - burst into Boro box. This French defender, already on a yellow card following a first-half stab at Steven Gerrard, tilted clumsily at the teenager's heels and over he tumbled. Successive replays failed to reveal how much of them Queudrue touched or whether he feathered the ball's plastic coating, but the referee again turned away the protests.

Gérard Houllier, Liverpool's manager, continued them. "I have a lot of sympathy for referees because the game goes very fast, but it was a penalty because Queudrue didn't touch the ball at all. He tackled his standing leg and injured the player - he's got a swollen ankle because it was a direct kick.''

When Liverpool lost at the Riverside last season they had arrived top of the table, unbeaten in 12. The villain that day had been Jerzy Dudek, who had dropped the ball late on for Gareth Southgate to score; yesterday it was Kirkland, who started in goal for the first time in the League this season.

Liverpool opened with a flurry of snappy, short passes and Middlesbrough were pinned back. Tackles were immediately demanded, Southgate sliding to deny Emile Heskey and Colin Cooper nipping the ball off Owen's toes.Yet Middlesbrough, seeking their fourth consecutive victory, refused to be bowed, with Juninho aware of space and Mendieta popping up all over the pitch. That they were blunted was partly down to Michael Ricketts' inability, his increasingly rare touches being greeted with ironic cheers from his own supporters. He was with withdrawn to silence in the 69th minute.

It was left to the Brazilian and the Spaniard to create all of Middlesbrough's chances, the best of which Traoré repelled with his long-legged tackle. Middlesbrough's manager, Steve McLaren, who did wonder whether it was a penalty, said: "It was a good performance by us against a very, very good Liverpool side. They are no doubt a top four team and we matched them and had our chances.

"Both sides had opportunities, but neither had a defining moment although we have to be pleased with what we got because it continues our revival. People now say that coming to Middlesbrough they will be hard to breakdown. For us that's four clean sheets in a row and that is some going in the Premiership.''