Prize draw for Boro

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Coventry City 0

Middlesbrough 0

Attendance: 18,810

THE ANGLE of Middlesbrough's decline became a little less acute after yesterday's draw at Highfield Road, and the relegation dogfight that was on thehorizon before the match was forced a little further away. For Coventry, however, a home draw with an out-of-form side was far from what was required.

Boro have sunk depressingly low since the seductive days when their new stadium opened and Juninho arrived to begin what might have been a season- long carnival. But when you lose 4-1 to Bolton Wanderers, the bottom club, as they did last weekend and at the same time record your eighth consecutive defeat, the samba slows to the blues. Juninho is still away on international duty, but in any case he was not bought with a relegation battle in mind.

Ron Atkinson's investment in attempting to guarantee Coventry's security now amounts to over pounds 13m, including the pounds 1.75m he paid Aberdeen last week for Eoin Jess and pounds 1.5m to Birmingham City for Liam Daish. The need for Daish's defensive steel was contained in the statistic of 49 goals conceded in 29 Premiership matches. Certainly he voiced his authority yesterday, directing affairs at the back and tackling forcefully. That allowed Coventry to take an early grip that would have been tighter had Noel Whelan converted a low centre in the seventh minute from John Salako.

Daish and Richard Shaw's solid defending reduced Jan Fjortoft and Nick Barmby's breakthroughs to a minimum, and Boro's only potentially damaging strike of the first half hour came when Graham Kavanagh forced Steve Ogrizovic to turn his shot over the crossbar. Nevertheless, Fjortoft remained Boro's most likely provider of hope. Indeed, he forced another important save from Ogrizovic after a welcome example of purposeful ball control.

Once Jess had settled he became increasingly productive, not least when moving forward quickly and holding off his pursuers strongly. His passing was always considered and all-in-all Coventry ought to get value for money from a player who promised so much five years ago in Scotland but has been unfortunate with injuries.

If the crowd found the match frustrating, equally irritation surfaced among some of the players. Daish was booked for using Fjortoft's head as a stepping-stone and Fjortoft himself was almost immediately cautioned for barging Daish off the ball. That passed for passion in a game stagnating in earnest, usually misdirected endeavour.

For fully 30 minutes of the second half, neither goalkeeper had more than gentle fielding practice, and when Fjortoft did break through the Coventry defence his shot slid across the face of the goal. At least he always looked positive without a great deal of support from the anonymous Nick Barmby.

Middlesbrough probably felt that a point might at least be a step in the right direction, but on home ground it was not all that Coventry required. And that was exactly the way it looked. Even so, it took a brave last- minute block by Ogrizovic at the feet of Kavanagh to ensure that the Teessiders did not get away with a victory that would have very much misrepresented the match.