A local derby, a vocal derby but ultimately a goalless derby. While there was an argument that the fog clouding the Riverside was not quite thick enough for the neutral, both Middlesbrough and Newcastle were able to take consolation from a point each. That and the fact they are not Sunderland. The North-East's three clubs represent a Bermuda triangle of misplaced hope this season and a smattering of empty seats for such an occasion reflected more than the credit crunch. Boro have now won just one of their last six league games here.
Yet at times the noise suggested more than 32,000 were present and Gareth Southgate described the atmosphere afterwards as "brilliant". Southgate saw his team dominate, particularly in the second half, but a combination of wasteful finishing, mainly from Afonso Alves, and the alertness of Shay Given late on, meant there was no home breakthrough.
"Very much a point gained," was Southgate's assessment, though, "one we deserved. We had the majority of the game and the second half was pretty much one-way traffic. We've allowed them a few breaks but I'm pretty pleased with how we played."
What Joe Kinnear made of his first derby on Teesside we do not know as he did not speak, but one day into his semi-permanent position, Kinnear saw Newcastle edge above Sunderland and out of the relegation zone.
Newcastle are hardly renowned for goalless draws but this was the second in a row following last week's at Stamford Bridge. That is a solid base they must build upon at St James' Park next Saturday against Stoke.
The bad news for Kinnear came in the shape of two of his strikers. One, Michael Owen, was anonymous; another, Obafemi Martins, stormed down the tunnel after his 65th minute substitution. Martins' ire stemmed from the obvious fact that he was far better than Owen and yet when Kinnear wanted to introduce Mark Viduka, it was the Nigerian who was called to the touchline. Perhaps embarrassed by this conspicuous injustice, Owen moved towards Martins to express his sympathy but by the time Martins reached the dugout area he was chuntering away and offered no acknowledgement of his manager.
Kinnear's assistant Chris Hughton endeavoured to downplay Martins' reaction. "He's OK," Hughton said of Martins' demeanour in the dressing room. "What we do will be kept in-house. What we have now is a little bit more competition for places. You want players to be disappointed coming off."
Hughton said he is not worried about Owen's form. That may be true, but he cannot be thrilled with it either. Martins was more mobile, available more often and came closest to scoring when he seized on a deflected Danny Guthrie shot in the 35th minute and clipped the crossbar with Boro keeper Ross Turnbull beaten. That was the game's first effort on target.
Owen, meanwhile, did not have a shot all day and created next to nothing for his colleagues. It was Martins' name Newcastle fans were serenading when he was hauled off. It was not an invigorating game for any forward. Alves, a Brazilian capable of scoring sensational free-kicks, is Boro's record signing at £12m. But supporters have grown to doubt Alves' first touch and his appetite for the fray.
Too often Alves proves his doubters correct. On the one first-half occasion when he deserved sympathy – in the 33rd minute when he was nudged in the back gently but tellingly by Habib Beye as he prepared to head – Alves was overlooked by referee Alan Wiley.
To his credit, he kept going and improved after the interval. Following Jérémie Aliadière's fluffed close-range volley, Alves displayed determination to run past Fabricio Coloccini in the 67th minute. His strike was fierce but rose just over Given's bar.
Eight minutes later, with Boro pressing, Justin Hoyte, advanced from full-back, met Aliadière's low cross and Given had to be sharp to block. Southgate sent on Mido but the fog had engulfed the stadium by now and few could foresee a late winner at either end. Predictably, that opinion was not disproved.
Referee: Alan Wiley
Man of the match: Arca
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content