Gareth Southgate was putting on a brave face in the wake of another harrowing afternoon at the Riverside, but the inner turmoil he was suffering spoke volumes for a plight that has now got so bad even his own supporters have turned against him.
Southgate has set his heart on leading Middlesbrough back into the Premier League next season. Relegation on the final afternoon of the season is now looking more and more certain barring a mathematical miracle in the wake of this frustrating stalemate.
The truth is, however, that that same heart of Southgate's might just be left broken after he was jeered, booed and abused by his own supporters at the final whistle.
The Middlesbrough players who remained on the field at the final whistle were given a generous reception considering the circumstances, not least because these same players have failed Southgate all season. Supporters have decided Southgate is to blame for the club's demise and even a chairman with the patience of Steve Gibson will have been disturbed to hear the abuse dished out to his manager as he walked down the tunnel.
Middlesbrough had given themselves some hope when Tuncay Sanli scored in spectacular fashion in the first half. He beat Brad Friedel with a stunning overhead kick on 14 minutes and the great escape was still on.
Such hope was extinguished, however, when John Carew equalised just before the hour mark to deny Boro the win they so desperately needed.
Southgate said: ''I do believe that amid the emotion of things it's easy to make quick decisions that are wrong.
''I expected an adverse reaction if we didn't get a result, I expected it to come towards me – I'm the manager, I have to take responsibility and I'm glad it came to me and not the players.
''I've had plenty of difficult moments, I've lost cup finals, been relegated as a player, Euro 96 was something only a couple of people in the country have had to deal with. Whatever is thrown my way I can handle.''
Aston Villa remain in the fight for fifth place but manager Martin O'Neill took time out to sympathise with his opposite number. O'Neill said: ''I didn't know the crowd were getting at Gareth. He is someone I have the highest regard for.''
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; Bates, Wheater, Huth, Hoyte; Johnson, O'Neil (Walker, 73), Arca, Downing (King, 24); Emnes, Tuncay. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Taylor, Shawky, McMahon, Grounds.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Milner, Cuellar, Davies, Shorey; Agbonlahor, Petrov, Barry, Young (Reo-Coker, 71); Carew, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Sidwell, Delfouneso, Knight, Gardner, Clark.
Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).
Booked: Aston Villa Milner, Barry.
Man of the Match: Tuncay.
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