Middlesbrough 1 Wigan Athletic 1: Yakubu lacks appeal to shoppers ahead of January sales

Click to follow
The Independent Football

There were the familiar queues of traffic snaking along both carriageways of the congested A19 as Saturday's 3pm kick-off at the Riverside Stadium loomed. There was the usual police presence and there were the regular diversions.

Cars crammed full with excitable children, creaking minibuses with steamed-up windows and a fleet of coaches from the North-east made steady progress. Yes, thousands of Christmas shoppers were headed for Teesside Retail Park, leaving the unfortunate few to seek alternative routes to the football.

Middlesbrough's lowest League crowd of the season, almost 12,000 below capacity, was symptomatic of the festive season, the perceived quality of the opposition and, significantly, the dire football served up by a home team flirting with the bottom three. The chance to win a one-minute trolley dash round the club shop failed to entice those with better things to do.

The disaffected masses missed an entertaining match. There were chances aplenty, contentious incidents and even, incredibly, a goal from Ayegbeni Yakubu. Should the lethargic Nigerian win the trolley dash he would be well advised to nominate a niftier replacement - and certainly not the equally sedentary Mark Viduka.

Middlesbrough's heavyweight attackers failed to capitalise on Chris Kirkland's withdrawal at half-time and did little to increase their value ahead of January's transfer window. Not that the Middlesbrough manager, Gareth Southgate, appeared to notice.

"The partnership looked promising today," he said. "They are a threat together, no question of that. Most teams would cast envious eyes over the pair of them and we're fortunate to have them here."

Perhaps the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was correct to describe Southgate as naïve, after all. The former England defender had clearly allowed Yakubu's 67th-minute equaliser, a simple tap-in from an excellent James Morrison cross, to cloud his judgement. The only threat posed by Middlesbrough's forwards on Saturday was to future Riverside gate receipts.

Thankfully, Wigan produced enough entertainment for two teams during a first half that the Latics dominated. Their forward Henri Camara converted a 24th-minute penalty following an aggressive foul by the Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz on his countryman Paul Scharner, and the visitors were worthy of more than a 1-0 lead at the interval.

Mark Schwarzer, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper, produced a series of breathtaking saves to keep his team in contention and Wigan's midfielder Kevin Kilbane later insisted: "We deserved to go in at half-time two or three goals up. Schwarzer made a couple of outstanding saves and I don't how he kept Paul and Henri at bay. Chris made one or two vital stops too but we were always on top."

Kirkland was admitted to a Teesside hospital with concussion after colliding with a team-mate towards the end of the first half. Although the England international initially recovered, he collapsed in the dressing room at half-time and required oxygen and a neck brace. "Chris is very unlucky with his injuries but on this occasion I think he's been quite fortunate," said the Wigan manager, Paul Jewell. "He might even be OK to face Arsenal on Wednesday."

Goals: Camara pen (24) 0-1; Yakubu (67) 1-1.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Xavier, Woodgate, Pogatetz (Parnaby, 46), Taylor; Morrison, Boateng, Arca, Downing; Viduka, Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Rochemback, Christie, Johnson.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland (Pollitt, 46); Wright, Boyce, Hall, Baines; Cotterill (Valencia, 57, Johansson, 68), Scharner, Skoko, Kilbane; Camara, McCulloch. Substitutes not used: Landzaat, Webster.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Middlesbrough Pogatetz, Viduka; Wigan McCulloch.

Man of the match: Schwarzer.

Attendance: 23, 638.