Middlesbrough 0 Liverpool 0

Gerrard's prompting fails to break Boro resolve

Dan Murphy
Sunday 14 August 2005 00:02
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The England midfielder covered virtually every blade of grass at the Riverside as Liverpool strove desperately to make their general superiority over Middlesbrough count. They looked the more purposeful team, especially in the last 15 minutes after Ugo Ehiogu had been sent off for tripping Gerrard - who else? - when through on goal.

The Liverpool captain has already scored seven times this season with the middle of August yet to arrive. But for all his long-range volleys, pile-drivers, diving headers and toe-pokes, the Liverpool captain could not add to that tally yesterday as a disappointingly unambitious Boro held on to earn a point.

"We had a lot of opportunities to win but they did a good job in defence," said Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager. "We might have lost two points but a draw is fine. I'm pleased with our performance and we need to do similar things that we did today in our next away games." Yesterday's game marked the 10th anniversary of Boro's move to the Riverside.

To celebrate the landmark, the famous red iron gates that used to guard the entrance to Ayresome Park, the club's former stadium, and that have been in storage ever since, have been erected in front of the main stand.

But any notion they might symbolise the Riverside becoming a fortress was disabused during an opening period when Liverpool controlled possession for long periods, particularly when the elegant Xabi Alonso was anywhere near the ball. His presence at the base of midfield allowed Gerrard to attack with freedom, and the midfielder almost opened the scoring after beating Mark Schwarzer to the ball, but his toe could not direct it underneath the crossbar.

Such was the control Liverpool were exerting in midfield, the new-look Boro strike pairing of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Aiyegbeni Yakubu was given little to feed on.

Even Stewart Downing, fresh from signing a new contract that will keep him on Teesside until 2010, was subdued. The winger is on England Under-21 duty in midweek and will surely hope to encounter a less diligent full-back than Steve Finnan, who tracked his every move.

The only time Boro threatened to score was just before half-time when Ehiogu's scrambled shot was deflected over the bar. In the first few minutes of the second half alone Gerrard went close with three long-range efforts.

As the game became increasingly stretched, Liverpool looked most likely to benefit and so it proved as Bolo Zenden, predictably booed throughout against his former club, set Milan Baros free and his pass inside Ehiogu gave Gerrard a run on goal.

The central defender had no choice but to bring him down on the edge of the penalty area and Mark Halsey, the referee, was similarly clear-minded in sending Ehiogu off.

That marked the start of a relentless period of attacking from the visitors, although there was to be no late winner.

"It's very important to get something from your first game and it was always going to be difficult against a team who are already into their season," said Steve McClaren, the Boro manager. "It was a good first-game performance against a side I think will be title contenders."

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