Vital point or two lost? It's no clearer for Boro

LINES closed at 5pm on Saturday in the Middlesbrough ticket office for season card holders to secure their seat at early bird prices.

But fans who expect success in return for their financial investment will most likely be keeping their hands in their pockets until Boro's promotion situation becomes clearer.

After a solid point at Brighton and Hove Albion - Boro's fourth in a row - Tony Mowbray admitted that he was no nearer to knowing whether his side are safe bets for the play-offs.

Speaking before he saw rivals Blackpool beat Southampton on Saturday evening, Mowbray said: "It's clear as mud. At the moment, as the games tick down, nothing seems to be resolved, we just keep going.

"Let's hope that's a big point for us. An extra two points would have given us breathing space, yet it remains very tight. We just need to keep going.

"We've got some games where we need to find wins. We've had a very tough run of fixtures, and when Doncaster Rovers at home comes along we have to try and take the points. The away games - Derby, Watford, Hull City - are not easy games but we'll give it our best shot and see where we go."

Marvin Emnes nodded the 61st minute opener at the American Express Community Stadium, while Albion right-back Inago Calderon powered a header home in an exciting end-to-end game, which either side could have won.

Both goals came from set-pieces, despite both sides enjoying plenty of chances in front of goal, and Mowbray said: "That's how tight the game was.

"They had some opportunities in the first half without really having any clear chances. We huffed and puffed a bit and we had some great chances with Lukas (Jutkiewicz) hitting the post and turning and shooting.

"When you get your noses in front against a team that is struggling to break you down, you expect to get the three points. That's where the frustration comes from."

Both sides enjoyed opportunities in an often frenetic opening half, and it was a surprise that the 45 minutes ended goalless.

Joe Mattock gave Middlesbrough goalkeeper Jason Steele something to think about in the eighth minute when the full-back rifled Will Buckley's cross goalwards, but the England Under-21 stopper pawed clear.

Barry Robson saw a driven free-kick whistle just wide for the visitors, while at the other end the Boro wall deflected Vicente Rodriguez' free-kick out for a corner.

Boro were strong in possession of the ball, while Poyet's Seagulls were quick on the counter and, after Jutkiewicz's shot was parried out by Peter Brezovan, Buckley - a constant thorn in the visitors' side - worked himself into space on the right, beat the slipping Julio Arca only to see his shot well held by Steele.

It was the visitors, in sixth place at kick-off, who came out of the blocks in the second half the better, enjoying a succession of chances courtesy of Jutkiewicz, Arca and Robson, before Nicky Bailey found Emnes, whose instant turn and shot flew just wide of Brezovan's post.

After 57 minutes Brighton's first foray into Boro's half since the interval saw Steele save superbly from Vicente's deflected shot.

Boro went ahead when Robson's corner was met with a glancing header from Emnes to send the 2,500 visiting Teessiders into raptures.

That lead was almost doubled when Jutkiewicz hit the post with a low drive on 71 minutes, a miss which Boro were left to regret when, from the counter attack, Albion equalised.

Calderon timed his run into the box from substitute Kazenga LuaLua's corner and Steele had no chance with the bullet header.

In reply, Joe Bennett's free-kick was parried out by Brezovan and Bailey rifled the follow-up wide on 78 minutes.

It was a game which both sides deserved something from, but as Justin Hoyte, Vicente and Alan Navarro all went close in injury time, neither team could get the breakthrough.

Mowbray said: "I think on the balance of the game we should have been talking about three points, having got ourselves in front in what was a good match.

"We played against a very good team. Brighton expand the pitch and they have their own way of playing, which is very refreshing for the Championship. Great credit to Gus for putting out a team like that.

"But after getting our noses in front, we're all disappointed not to take three points from the game. We hit the post a couple of minutes before they scored and it would have been game over at that point. We have to take the point, it could be a big one.

"To go away to West Ham, Ipswich and Brighton and get a point shows the spirit of the team and the desire not to lose games.

"We have to capitalise by winning our next home game."

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