Everton and Middlesbrough probably do not think they have been in a game these days unless they come up with late goals, but the points they shared at Goodison Park yesterday maintained the belief that here are two teams on an upward curve, unbeaten as both now are in five matches.
If the opportunity to move within touching distance of the top four was not taken, it was not for the lack of trying in a see-sawing contest in which Ayegbeni Yakubu denied his former club their first win in 18 Premier League visits to Merseyside.
The Nigerian striker, back after a one-match injury absence, ended the longest goalless run in his Everton career – stretching back nine appearances and two months – with a 66th-minute equaliser from one of several menacing set-pieces by Mikel Arteta.
Yakubu, on his 50th start for the club, failed to connect with an attempted twisting header to an in-swinging free-kick from the left, making contact instead with his back and still generating enough power to beat Ross Turnbull from close range.
Middlesbrough were by then confined to counter-attacking – an art in which they proved adept all game – and were within inches of regaining their lead almost immediately when Tim Howard pushed Didier Digard's shot against the base of his post.
"Give Middlesbrough credit, they kept trying to hit us," said David Moyes of his 250th League match in charge of Everton. "But we were a bit unlucky not to win. We made good opportunities and, on another day, would have had three points."
Stewart Downing's enterprise on the break and general calmness in possession, was encouraging for Fabio Capello in the build-up to England's friendly in Berlin on Wednesday.
Despite the late withdrawal of Jérémie Aliadière through illness, Gareth Southgate's side started at the sort of gallop with which they finished their victory at Aston Villa last Sunday, Tuncay Sanli, the late match-winner there, driving just past the angle from 25 yards before figuring in the fine move that brought the breakthrough.
Tuncay and Downing had yards of space to work the ball from left to right and set up the equally unchallenged Gary O'Neil to score with a low right-foot shot in off the foot of the near post from 15 yards – an accomplished finish that belied the fact that the midfielder had netted only once in 43 previous Middlesbrough appearances. It might have been two before Everton sorted themselves out. Tuncay hooked a volley over and Digard skidded a 25-yarder wide after Joleon Lescott had been robbed by Afonso Alves.
Fortune favoured Middlesbrough, though, in what remained of the first half. Turnbull rushed out to block well from the clean-through Yakubu, who shrugged off Emanuel Pogatetz to reach Louis Saha's headed pass, and Marouane Fellaini's close-range shot hit Pogatetz near the line after Lescott's centre had rebounded from the inside of the far post.
Despite Everton's penchant for salvaging unpromising causes – their previous five goals had all come in the last seven minutes of games – they could hardly fail to be perturbed by how chances were coming and going.
Joseph Yobo powered a header over from Phil Neville's cross, then Tim Cahill, from the type of opportunity on which he has built his formidable reputation, bounced a free header wide when Arteta's corner found him six yards out.
When Saha's diving header to Neville's fine pull-back shortly after the hour was a case of all power and no direction, Everton might have wondered whether this was to be another downturn following the belated recording of their first home League victory only two weekends ago, but their persistence was rewarded with a goal that only partially dented the visitors' satisfaction at a job well done.
"We're happy with a point," Southgate said. "We played very well for the first 15 to 20 minutes and probably needed a second goal to go on and win.
"That's eight points now from our last four away games and Stewart Downing is back to his best. Everybody can play at home and it's great to see him contribute like that away. He did a good defensive job as well."
Goals: O'Neil (8) 0-1; Yakubu (66) 1-1.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott; Osman (Pienaar, 73), Cahill (Anichebe, 86), Fellaini, Arteta; Yakubu (Vaughan, 88), Saha. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Hibbert, Baines, Castillo.
Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Turnbull; Hoyte, Riggott (Wheater, 52), Pogatetz, Taylor; O'Neil, Digard, Arca (Johnson, 68), Downing; Tuncay; Alves (Emnes, 84). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Franks, Grounds, Walker.
Referee: H Webb (Rotherham).
Bookings: Middlesbrough Digard, Pogatetz.
Man of the match: Downing.
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