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Point gained, but Boro’s injury problems mount
9:59pm Tuesday 27th March 2012 in Middlesbrough FC: News, Fixtures, Results & Tables By Paul Fraser, Chief Football/Golf Writer
ON the one hand, Middlesbrough conjured up a performance to earn a point in the race for a play-off place in the Championship when the odds seemed stacked against them.
But on the other it is likely Tony Mowbray, the Boro boss, will head in to the club's Rockliffe Park training ground tomorrow morning wary of what he might hear.
Six weeks after the original meeting with Ipswich Town had to be abandoned due to the freezing temperatures, this time Boro managed to make the long trek back to the North-East with a result that could prove crucial come May.
And it looked even more unlikely when Julio Arca conceded a penalty when the score was still goalless. Yet once Jason Steele made a fine save to deny Grant Leadbitter's spot-kick, Middlesbrough defended proudly to give themselves a chance of a surprise result.
Lukas Jutkiewicz, with his third goal since joining from Coventry in January, poked Middlesbrough in to the lead in the 63rd minute to raise hopes of closing the gap on the top two.
But, 11 minutes later, Leadbitter made amends with a thunderbolt from distance to level matters - meaning Middlesbrough had to make do with the point that reaffirmed their position in fifth in the promotion race.
Conditions, and the temperature, were far greater than those which forced the initially scheduled meeting between the two to be abandoned inside 37 minutes at the beginning of last month.
There was a sense, though, Mowbray was looking for something different from his team after returning to Portman Road on the back of four matches without a win.
He opted to make changes to both the personnel and the system, with Kevin Thomson, Merouane Zemmama, Bartholomew Ogbeche and Jutkiewicz all paying the price for the inability to defeat Bristol City on Saturday.
The absence of that particular quartet was designed so Nicky Bailey could play at the hub of a diamond, sitting in front of the back four, with Barry Robson providing the link to the attack.
But the Boro boss had not looked for the other change he had to make early last night. After a pretty uneventful opening, the Middlesbrough boss suffered the set-back everyone at the club had privately been fearing.
After failing to bring in some central defensive cover before the loan window closed last week, the sight of skipper Bates trudging frustratingly down the tunnel inside 17 minutes was something they could have done without.
It looked innocuous. Bates tried to shepherd the ball out of play and Michael Chopra pushed him to the floor.
After a few minutes of receiving treatment, he got to his feet but reached the decision with head physio Chris Moseley to take no further part, bearing in mind his previous injury record.
While that was going on Leadbitter brought a save out of Steele and Tommy Smith headed a Jay Emmanuel-Thomas corner over the bar as Ipswich looked to make the most of the extra man.
But once Tony McMahon had slotted in to calm things down at the back, Middlesbrough found more confidence in possession, even if they struggled to test goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.
On the couple of occasions before half-time he was tested, he wiped out Hines - who struggled on after lengthy treatment before being replaced at the interval - when he punched a cross in to his area and then held a McMahon free-kick.
With neither Bates nor Hines around for the second half, Bailey was the man asked to slot back in to the back four and he formed an effective pairing with McMahon. Further tinkering was required further forward, with Jutkiewicz the man to partner Emnes in attack.
And the £1.5m buy from Coventry's first touch was a dreadful one. When Emnes had burst beyond full-back Carlos Edwards, he squared for Hammill to force a save out of McCarthy.
Even then Jutkiewicz looked to be in the perfect place to finish off the rebound, except the striker somehow side-footed wide of the target from inside the six yard box with the net open in front of him.
After that Ipswich tried to attack more frequently, but still found it difficult to find the break through.
And when they were given a helping hand courtesy of Arca's trip on Emmanuel-Thomas in the area before the hour, Steele dived to his right to make a strong save to deny Leadbitter's penalty.
That sparked the Portman Road crowd temporarily in to life. But when Middlesbrough attacked down the right, the home fans were soon silenced when the opening goal finally arrived.
Hammill, switched to the wing after Hines' withdrawal, cleverly worked possession for Hoyte to run on to. From Hoyte's cross, Robson's low drive was blocked on the line by McCarthy.
Middlesbrough, however, went again. Bennett picked out Hoyte, his low delivery was turned over the line by Jutkiewicz, who did manage to deliver from close-range this time, and the lead was taken.
It never lasted long. When Leadbitter was handed possession, the former Sunderland midfielder took a touch before unleashing an unstoppable 25-yard drive inside Steele's bottom right corner.
There were a few half chances at either end, but nothing really came to much in the closing stages. This, considering the night's events, should be a point cherished.
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