The word obdurate has for long been considered apt summation of what Middlesbrough have to offer in the Premier League, but suddenly style and skill have started to emerge in Gareth Southgate's team. Manchester United nearly came a cropper at The Riverside last Sunday and yesterday Tottenham were lucky to dodge defeat at White Hart Lane, with their manager, Juande Ramos, never in danger of being labelled a song and dance man, looking black as thunder on the touchline.
In his programme notes Ramos had fingered lack of consistency as his side's Achilles heel. Spot on, Juande. Since that heady Carling Cup afternoon at Wembley, Spurs have won only two of their eight League matches. Here, once again, Spurs took the lead and were comfortably in command, only to crumble in the second half. He accused his players of "dropping their guard" and pointed out that football lasts 90 minutes, rather than 45, while conceding that, languishing as they are in mid-table, he has not found it easy to drum up "maximum motivation".
Fabio Cappello must have headed home a happy England coach after witnessing the havoc wrought by Stewart Downing, capped by a spectacular long-range equaliser which benefitted from a significant deflection off Jermaine Jenas. Considering that Downing was suffering from a viral chest infection both he and Capello can take heart from a fine display.
That deserved Boro victory might have materialised if Afonso Alves' score in the opening minute had not been ruled out for offside. Gary O'Neil made a lot of ground to get in a cross and when Radek Cerny, replacing the injured Paul Robinson, spilled Jérémie Aliadière's shot Alves pounced on the loose ball, only to see a flag aloft.
Cerny's performance got no better, but the opening half belonged to Spurs, with Aaron Lennon benefiting from the decision of his marker, the young recruit Jon Grounds, to stand off almost in admiration as Lennon whizzed past him time and again.
Poor Grounds was debited with the Tottenham goal, too, in the 27th minute. Dimitar Berbatov volleyed a cross to the far post, where Lennon delivered a bouncing shot which struck Grounds and wrong-footed Mark Schwarzer.
With Jenas in imperious midfield command and Robbie Keane, on his 250th appearance for the club, buzzing in support of Berbatov, Spurs were in charge without really looking worthy of a second, clinching goal.
Southgate damned that first-half display as "very end of season, not an acceptable performance". His gee-up message clearly taken aboard, Boro went at Spurs eagerly after the break and the goalline clearance by Lennon from a David Wheater header set the scene for a long spell of domination by the visitors. Alves, the scourge of the League leaders a week ago, is beginning to show why Boro paid a club record fee for him. One glorious through-ball to Aliadière had "made in Brazil" stamped on it and Tottenham were fortunate that Michael Dawson was quick to block the shot.
Dawson was again the saviour when Alves waltzed round ex-Boro man Jonathan Woodgate, getting in a crucial intervention, and when Alves broke through on the left he opted to shoot narrowly wide with the unmarked Aliadière beseeching the ball.
After Downing's equaliser, there was a flurry of the six permitted substitutions in a quarter of an hour. One of Middlesbrough's, Tuncay, thought he had won it with a point-blank thunderball but one of the Spurs new men, Gilberto, bravely threw himself in the path of it.Reuse content