Full-time: Middlesbrough 0 Wigan Athletic 0
WITH just a few days remaining of the transfer window, Aitor Karanka was given further reason to drive home the need for an extra striker at the Riverside Stadium last night.
Despite avoiding defeat to one of the Championship's other form teams over the last ten games, Middlesbrough were unable to heat up a cold Teesside by firing in front of goal.
Wigan Athletic, with the exception of a fine second half save from Shay Given, rarely seriously troubled the Boro goal, but it was also just as quiet for Ali Al-Habsi at the other end.
A point meant Middlesbrough have lost ground on the play-off places, with Reading having opened the gap to seven points over the men from Teesside and the need for a fresh forward face has never been greater.
Middlesbrough, who were rocked by what looked to be a serious Achilles injury suffered by defender Rhys Williams just before half-time, might be the third highest scorers in the Championship, but Kei Kamara is the only striker to have four goals.
Following the departure of Lukas Jutkiewicz on loan to Bolton yesterday, this was another reminder of why Karanka is so desperate to bring a new forward in before Friday's transfer deadline.
The departure of Jutkiewicz and the absence of a new attacking recruit last night meant an opportunity for somebody to prove they can lead the line before a fresh arrival.
It was telling that Karanka opted for the more youthful legs of Curtis Main rather than Kamara.
Main and a recall for Marvin Emnes ahead of nine-goal Albert Adomah were the two changes to the side which started the defeat at Leicester. Wigan, however, soon got to grips with some early Middlesbrough vibrancy and caused problems to the home defence.
In fact, with Jean Beausejour and Nick Powell effectively playing as left and right forwards alongside striker Marc Antoine-Fortune at the start, the Latics actually looked more dangerous for the first 25 minutes.
Had it not been for the chest of Williams, Wigan midfielder Chris McCann would have put the visitors ahead, with the defender getting enough on an effort to turn away from goal.
With the exception of a well-struck free-kick from Emmanuel Ledesma which curled into the arms of Al-Habsi, Middlesbrough seemed unable to do anything going forward up to that point.
Once Mustapha Carayol had driven a 22-yard shot narrowly wide after cutting in from the left, Middlesbrough found their feet until half-time. A breakthrough never arrived though.
Al-Habsi was well placed to hold Main's shot which flew straight at him, which seemed to create some improved hope of an opening goal.
But the best chance of the half fell to Carayol at the back post. The winger, wanted by Brighton, headed Ledesma's corner goalwards at the back post and somehow Emmerson Boyce was on hand to block on the line.
At that point Middlesbrough looked in command, but they suffered the horrible blow to Williams. He appeared to turn innocuously near half-way before collapsing on the floor.
Minutes ticked by as he lie motionless on the surface. Eventually he was helped off the pitch on a stretcher, with a blanket over him and an oxygen mask over his mouth.
Boro striker Curtis Main wasted a great chance to score
Rather than introduce one of the recent loan signings from Chelsea – Kenneth Omeruo or Nathaniel Chalobah - Karanka asked Ben Gibson to fill the void for the second half.
Middlesbrough needed to be stronger in the final third in the second half to edge ahead and return to winning ways. Far too frequently Wigan's Boyce and Leon Barnett found balls their way too easy to clear.
After Gibson had made a stunning block to stop Roger Espinoza's through pass from finding Fortune as the forward looked clear on goal, Middlesbrough did almost go ahead at the other end.
A delightful delivery from Carayol looked perfect for Main to dart to the near post and turn over the line, but Barnett arrived just in time to turn behind for a corner.
Defensively, despite the reshuffle, Middlesbrough stayed strong, which was highlighted when Ayala made a crucial block to deny Fortune after some clever play from Nick Powell helped to create an opening. In an attacking sense, though, Middlesbrough still struggled. When they did create the best chance of the game, however, Main fluffed his lines and his big chance.
Ledesma and Carayol fashioned some space between them. The latter rolled in to the path of Main and the former Darlington forward turned over the bar from ten yards.
That could easily have proved costly, particularly when goalkeeper Given made a quite brilliant one-handed save to turn James McArthur's long range effort over the bar after it took a wicked deflection en route.
But neither side really deserved to claim a much-needed win in the race for a play-off place.