THE most momentous year in Middlesbrough's history came to an end yesterday as the club finally relinquished its grip on the Carling Cup.

But after spending the last 12 months savouring the delights of continental competition following last year's victory in Cardiff, Boro are in danger of allowing the fall-out from their European adventures to prevent more celebrations in May.

Yesterday's 2-2 draw with Charlton keeps the Teessiders two points ahead of Bolton in the race for sixth place, and means that Steve McClaren's side are still on track for their best ever Premiership finish.

But, after picking up just seven points from their eight Premiership games since the turn of the year, Boro are hardly playing like members of the European elite.

And, tellingly, their continental exertions are beginning to hinder their performances on the domestic stage. Boro have now won just one of their ten Sunday fixtures this season and, while Bob Geldof didn't like Mondays, it is safe to assume that McClaren is not overly keen on the Sabbath.

Things actually looked like being even worse yesterday when Matt Holland's 14th-minute opener gave Charlton a deserved half-time lead.

Chris Riggott grabbed a timely equaliser after Boro improved markedly after the break but, after Shaun Bartlett fired Charlton ahead for a second time with ten minutes to go, it took substitute Danny Graham to salvage a point six minutes later.

The Teessiders had been slow out of the blocks on Thursday when Grazer AK grabbed an eighth-minute lead and, for the second game in a row, a poor opening period culminated in Boro going behind.

They had already been given a warning of Charlton's attacking capabilities when full-back Hermann Hreidarsson ghosted onto Danny Murphy's free-kick at the back post, only to guide his header wide of the target.

And, with Ray Parlour and Doriva conceding possession with alarming regularity, it did not take long for the Addicks to exploit Boro's general lack of cohesion again.

Bartlett controlled Talal El Karkouri's punt forward on his chest and, after the striker laid the ball back into the path on the onrushing Holland, the Republic of Ireland international duly lashed it past a helpless Carlo Nash with the aid of a deflection off an unfortunate Gareth Southgate.

Nash was making his home league debut after Mark Schwarzer suffered a knee injury in training and, while the former Manchester City goalkeeper did not command the same authority as the Australian, he could hardly be faulted for a goal that owed much to Boro's early lack of urgency.

Parlour was particularly culpable, repeatedly being robbed from behind as he dallied on the ball, but, after gradually settling, the home side twice went close to equalising before the interval, only to be thwarted by the agility of Dean Kiely.

First, the Charlton stopper produced a magnificent reflex save to push away Szilard Nemeth's close-range strike after the Slovakian had burst into the heart of the penalty area following a measured one-two with Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink.

And, three minutes before half-time, a back-pedalling Kiely proved effective again as he tipped Hasselbaink's looping header over the crossbar following a trademark centre from Stewart Downing.

That was a rare moment of danger for a Charlton side showing the kind of durability and organisation that had earned Middlesbrough a 2-1 win at The Valley in October, but it was to foreshadow a startling turnaround after the break.

Hasselbaink sent a 30-yard drive narrowly wide of the post but, while Boro gradually became convinced they could get something out of the game, Kiely remained an impenetrable obstacle.

He did well to turn Riggott's powerful header over the top in the 61st minute, before producing an even better reflex stop to keep out Hreidarsson's sliced clearance after the Charlton defender had slid in to intercept Franck Queudrue's header across the face of goal.

Suddenly, Boro were as purposeful as they had earlier been pedestrian and, with players pouring forward at every opportunity, Southgate showed a surprisingly deft touch to juggle the ball from one foot to the other on the edge of the box, before a deflection took his half-volley narrowly wide.

The centre-half was also prominent when the leveller finally came 16 minutes from time. He prodded Hasselbaink's cross-cum-shot at goal and, while Kiely made yet another close-range save, Riggott was on hand to turn the ball home from a position that looked to be a full yard offside.

Charlton's defenders were furious at the oversight, but Boro's backline were no happier six minutes later as a momentary lapse allowed the visitors to regain the lead.

Hreidarsson was given time and space on the left flank and, after both Southgate and Queudrue had failed to cut out his centre, an unmarked Bartlett rifled home from ten yards.

McClaren's response was to throw on Graham and Joseph-Desire Job - taking his striker quotient to four - and the ploy reaped almost immediate dividends as the former grabbed a dramatic equaliser just four minutes after being thrown into the fray.

Showing great bravery to latch onto Queudrue's through ball, the 19-year-old headed over the advancing Kiely.

His reward was a kick in the face from Chris Perry that temporarily knocked him unconscious, but the pain of the collision will have meant little when compared to the pleasure of his first league goal.