Middlesbrough 2 Sunderland 2: Miller times it right to gate-crash Downing's party

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The Independent Online

The final whistle here brought not just roars of approval from Sunderland fans celebrating Liam Miller's excellent late equaliser, but also the strains of "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" from the Tannoy. When he got home last night the Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate probably found that his wine was flat and his curry cold.

Having seen his increasingly persuasive side overcome not just Grant Leadbitter's 75-second goal, but then three enforced substitutions before the hour, Southgate, like most of the Riverside stadium, was contemplating victory courtesy of Stewart Downing's swerving bullet of a strike that left Sunderland's £9 million goalkeeper Craig Gordon floundering.

It was far from an undeserved lead. Boro were dominant for the bulk of the match but Julio Arca's 15th-minute equaliser against his former club was then followed by a knee injury that saw him leave on a stretcher some 10 minutes later. Boro had already lost Tuncay and Mido was also to depart early with a hamstring injury.

In the circumstances the Middlesbrough display was admirable and Southgate was determined to emphasise that rather than Miller's intervention. "The players were very down at the end, out on their feet," Southgate said, "but we've come out with a point and I won't let them leave the ground with their heads down.

"I thought we were really comfortable until the last five minutes and it would be easy to throw things about, but on an afternoon when just about everything that could go against us, did, I have to feel proud. Our attitude was fantastic. But the hospital will be busy."

Boro are at Spurs in the Carling Cup on Wednesday and as Southgate added: "At the start of the season we had injuries to all our centre-halves; now three of our four forwards are injured."

Arca may have medial ligament damage which would distress even the phlegmatic Southgate. The Argentine has matured into a fine and feisty midfielder and although he was muscled off the ball by Sunderland's young bull, Leadbitter, in the lead up to the opening goal, Arca recovered and it is not far-fetched to speculate that he would have been the game's pivotal player.

Lauded by both sets of fans, he quickly saw Leadbitter stride away. At the edge of the Boro area, he fed Michael Chopra and his shot then hit the still-going Leadbitter. Now free 10 yards out, Leadbitter showed calm to guide the ball into the far corner past Mark Schwarzer.

But Boro stabilised instantly and it was no surprise when Arca nipped onto the end of a dropping cross from Gary O'Neil to nod in an equaliser. A penalty should then have been awarded against Sunderland's Danny Higginbotham as Boro took control.

There were useful shots from O'Neil and Dong-Gook Lee and O'Neil perhaps should have scored with a 64th-minute volley. Three minutes later, though, and Boro were in front. Downing's first touch from George Boateng's pass took him inside the struggling Greg Halford. The ball was on his right foot but Downing can still use it to effect. He walloped a 30-yarder that Gordon must have felt was within his grasp. But it wasn't and the Scot will not enjoy the replays.

But instead of Gordon, the focus switched late to Miller. The Irishman was on for Dickson Etuhu and looked determined to prove himself.

As Roy Keane admitted, collectively Sunderland were not doing enough – "probably the only way we were going to get back was with a wonder strike" – and Miller supplied it, a left-foot 20-yard volley.

It was Sunderland's seventh goal of the season and three have been in the 89th minute or later. In fact over 40 per cent of Sunderland's goals in 2007 have come in the last 20 minutes.

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