Middlesbrough 2 Sunderland 2: 'Innocent' men reward Keane's faith

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The Independent Football

The benefit of innocence is one of those concepts not often discussed in professional football and in truth Roy Keane only touched on it on Saturday evening.

But Steve Coppell mentioned last season that some of his Reading players did not have the necessary top-flight history to be aware of the fear that knowledge can bring and after salvaging a point from an otherwise ordinary performance, Keane stressed that naivety can have its good side.

"A blind man could have seen that Middlesbrough have more experience in certain situations, Keane said. "It's quite easy to see. There are times to give a foul away or to slow things down, whatever it might be.

"They got in to good areas, controlling it and stopping the game. That's what we lacked a bit of. On the other hand the benefit we have is the innocence to keep going." Keane's point was valid. Of his starting eleven, only Dwight Yorke and Danny Higginbotham have sustained Premier League experience and for the likes of Greg Halford, Kenwyne Jones, Dickson Etuhu and Grant Leadbitter, it is all very new indeed.

Keane, too – this was the 36 year-old's 50th match in charge and though the same can be said of Gareth Southgate – this was the 37-year-old's 55th as Middlesbrough manager – what Keane inherited was incomparable to what Southgate found by the Tees.

This is Boro's 10th consecutive season in the Premier League. Sunderland's presence has been interrupted by grim relegations and this is their sixth season in the top flight. Keane has had to deconstruct and rebuild a team, Southgate has had to mould one.

The difference showed. Even if Boro's season needs to be viewed in the context of losing Mark Viduka and Ayegbeni Yakubu this summer, Southgate has players of the nous of Luke Young, Jonathan Woodgate, Fabio Rochemback and Mido to call on. He could even leave the club captain George Boateng on the bench to accommodate Gary O'Neil.

It's plausible that all six would get into the Sunderland side just now. So would Julio Arca, whom the Wearsiders tried to re-sign last month. After Leadbitter's 75th-second opener, Arca scored an uncelebrated equaliser 13 minutes later.

Then injury struck, as it had for Tuncay Sanli and would for Mido. Yet Boro remained dominant. Stewart Downing's 67th-minute strike gave the home side a lead they appeared ready to extend. But then, up popped Liam Miller. The Irishman has played for Celtic in the European Cup, for Manchester United and Leeds, but the 26 year-old is yet to make 100 League appearances. This goal, a dropping 20-yard volley, was his first in the Premier League. With it Miller won Sunderland's point and confirmed Keane's.

Goals: Leadbitter (2) 0-1; Arca (15) 1-1; Downing (67) 2-1; Miller (89) 2-2.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer, Young, Woodgate, Wheater, Taylor; O'Neil, Rochemback, Arca (Boateng, 27), Downing; Tuncay (Lee, 12), Mido (Cattermole, 58). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Riggott.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Halford, McShane, Higginbotham, Collins; Leadbitter, Yorke (Stokes, 67), Etuhu (Miller, 53) Wallace (O'Donovan, 76); Jones, Chopra. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Harte.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Middlesbrough Boateng, Taylor, Cattermole; Sunderland Etuhu, Chopra, Leadbitter, Miller.

Man of the match: Downing.

Attendance: 30,675.