THERE was a change here, a tinker there but the scoreline remained the same throughout.
After six straight defeats away from home, Middlesbrough can at least be thankful for small mercies.
A point takes Boro in the right direction again ahead of Saturday’s visit of out-ofsorts Millwall – beaten 5-1 at home to Peterborough last night – to the Riverside Stadium, even if the gap below to Brighton has tightened to two points after their shock win at Cardiff.
Boro were solid defensively rather than exciting as an attacking force for the vast majority of last night’s outing at Turf Moor, although with the minutes ticking by Tony Mowbray’s plan almost worked.
After introducing more and more forwards during the second half, he ended up with three of his most attackminded players on the pitch.
Yet it was not enough, despite two decisions from referee Kevin Wright – he blew for a free-kick when Josh McEachran was through on goal and could also have awarded a penalty when Ishmael Miller went down in the box – which could have seen Middlesbrough nick it.
There was just as much significance on this for Burnley.
After now picking up just two points from the last 12 available, they have slipped seven points behind the sixth and final play-off place.
Victory last night would have reinvigorated their own hopes of returning to the Premier League under the guidance of Sean Dyche – and it was one of their prize assets who almost opened the scoring.
Charlie Austin, the former Swindon striker who has previously interested Mowbray, forced Jason Steele into a flying save to his right inside five minutes after a blocked Brian Stock effort dropped into the 21-goal hot-shot’s path.
Shortly after that Chris Mc- Cann also found space to direct a shot narrowly over from distance after Andy Halliday had dallied in possession on halfway with a lack of options.
Halliday was asked to provide the width and supply on the left for lone striker Marvin Emnes, who needed to show signs of real improvement on his first start since his ineffectual displays against Aldershot and Ipswich Town.
Most of his better work was not in the final third, with Boro unable to threaten and Burnley tended to have the chances, albeit from distance.
But Steele did have to be alert at his near post six minutes before the break when Dean Marney’s glanced header from Junior Stanislas’ delivery arrowed towards goal.
That was a rare moment when Burnley actually found space in the Boro box, with Stephen McManus slotting in well alongside Andre Bikey at the heart of the defence for the first time since early October.
But a lack of progress going forward from Boro forced Mowbray to rethink.
He asked McEachran and Grant Leadbitter to drop deeper and sit in front of the back four, with Rhys Williams operating behind Emnes.
Something extra was required.
While Steele’s goal was hardly under siege, his Burnley counterpart, Grant, only had two touches before the interval and both came from back passes.
Defensively Boro looked competent, but without improvement early in the second half Mowbray took off the pragmatic Smallwood, playing wide right, for the more direct Mustapha Carayol.
And it was from Carayol’s first burst towards the Clarets’ box which led to Boro’s long-awaited first shot of the night.
After the winger had been tripped by defender Kevin Long, who was booked for the offence, Leadbitter’s lowly driven strike flew wide after Bikey rolled the free-kick into his path.
Seconds later Carayol also recorded the visitors’ first shot on target, even though it was more of a cross that went wrong from the right which curled straight into the arms of Grant.
After both Curtis Main and Miller were introduced for the closing stages to strengthen the Middlesbrough attack they created a chance only for the referee to pull play back.
When Carayol charged and played a pass through to McEachran he only had Grant to beat, but the official blew his whistle for a stray leg from Marney when he should have allowed play to go on.
And then he could have awarded a penalty when Miller’s run in to the box was thwarted by a strong challenge from Kevin Long when it was not clear if he won the ball. Miller’s reaction suggested he didn’t.
Both Main and Carayol were unlucky in the dying seconds, but there was to be no breakthrough. The rot, at least, has stopped.
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