Goalless. One word just about encapsulates Middlesbrough’s season and a fifth consecutive league game without scoring was hardly surprising from the team with the worst goals record across four divisions.
That Wigan Athletic had themselves recorded two goalless draws in a row prior to yesterday meant that the Riverside could not advertise a festival of attacking prior to kick-off. Disappointingly, the afternoon lived down to its modest expectations.
Boro remain in the relegation zone and it is now fifteen league games stretching back to early November since they last won. Given that record it is remarkable that they are not cut adrift, but they are not. Therefore there is some hope, though finding it amid the jeers from locals that greeted the final whistle would be a task.
Gareth Southgate retains belief that survival can be Boro’s but it is said through gritted teeth. “The majority of people outside our group of players think that we’re gone,” he said, “but we’re not. There’s a lot of football to be played.”
Southgate felt that Boro “attempted to do the right things for the most of the game” but was deflated by the last twenty minutes in which Boro were “fearful of making mistakes going forward.”
Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson is known for his patience but television pictures caught him staring at his mobile phone during the game. You could understand why.
Wigan manager Steve Bruce joked that three consecutive goalless draws show Wigan’s desire to beat “Van der Sar’s record” but his more serious point was that Wigan have reduced potency since the club cashed in on Emile Heskey and Wilson Palacios in January.
Understandably Boro are fragile in confidence. They started brightly, though, Stewart Downing initiating movement with his passes and it required Chris Kirkland’s best save of the day in the 34th minute to deny the England winger.
That said, Kirkland’s next stop came nearly an hour later. That was from Gary O’Neil and was Boro’s last chance of the game.
Didier Digard was prominent early too but a 19th minute tackle by Lee Cattermole put an end to Frenchman’s game.
Cattermole, on his first return to Boro since his sale last summer, was baited angrily by fans for this and responded with sarcastic applause. He knew he won the ball cleanly - he was not booked for the challenge, it was for a later one - but Digard departed on a stretcher and the two dugouts engaged in a slanging match that Bruce called “handbags”.
Digard was in hospital last night as Boro awaited news of his condition. Southgate said Cattermole “timed the tackle right to take everything.”
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Boyce