MIDFIELDER Mark Summerbell's first League goal salvaged a point for Middlesbrough as Bryan Robson's side threatened another roller-coaster season at the Riverside Stadium last night.

Summerbell, a surprise late call-up, headed Boro level on the hour after Tottenham established an interval lead.

George Graham's men had their own head boy in Oyvind Leonhardsen. The former Liverpool midfielder nodded the Londoners in front in the 39th minute, but neither side had the cutting edge to kill the game off.

It might have been different for Boro had Alen Boksic been on show.

After his dramatic introduction to English football at Coventry on Saturday, when he struck twice in Boro's eye-catching 3-1 win, the Croatian star was conspicuous by his absence last night.

It was a let-down for the expectant Boro faithful, but Robson had warned that he was prepared to rest the £2.5m striker if necessary to protect his fitness.

More surprising were the non-appearances of skipper Paul Ince and key defender Colin Cooper, who were ruled out with respective ankle and thigh injuries.

But Gary Pallister's recovery from an ankle injury was a boost for Robson, who handed a full debut to Aussie Paul Okon, a summer Bosman-free signing from Fiorentina, and also brought in 23-year-old Summerbell and Hamilton Ricard.

Of some concern to the Boro hierarchy, however, must have been the significant number of empty seats around the Riverside for the opening home game of the season.

If MI5 whistleblower and Boro fan David Shayler had turned up as planned to watch his favourites for the first time since his self-imposed exile three years ago, he certainly wouldn't have had trouble getting a seat.

Any late arrivals last night might have missed a promising first-minute Boro move which almost produced a quick-fire strike by Joseph-Desire Job.

The £3m Cameroon front-runner, who scored on his senior Boro debut at Coventry, forced a save from Neil Sullivan after Brian Deane had laid the ball off.

Deane proved the provider again in the 12th minute when he helped the ball on for Job to execute a left-foot finish which was blocked fortuitously by the unsighted Sullivan, who had fallen the wrong way but managed to make the save with his legs.

The mercurial Job then created an opening for himself with nimble footwork on the end of Keith O'Neill's pass, but fired wide of the near post.

Summerbell's eagerness to impress got the better of him in the 23rd minute when he was booked for a foul on Steffen Freund.

Four minutes later, Boro enjoyed a let-off as Steffen Iversen beat Pallister in the air but headed over from Ben Thatcher's pinpoint left-wing centre.

Spurs went as close as they could to scoring in the 37th minute when right-back Stephen Carr exchanged passes with Tim Sherwood and surged into the penalty area before lobbing goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

It looked a goal all the way until Okon suddenly appeared to make a desperate, headed goalline clearance before tumbling into the back of the net himself.

Schwarzer then had to move smartly to take Freund's low drive at his right-hand post, but Boro failed to heed the warning signs and fell behind when £11m Ukraine star Sergei Rebrov crossed from the right and Leonhardsen beat right-back Curtis Fleming to flick a header which looped beyond the keeper.

Boro began the second half with similar purpose to the first and Deane wasn't far wide with a first-time, 20-yard effort from O'Neill's left-wing cut-back.

Frenchman Christian Karembeu, making his home bow for Boro, nearly caught Sullivan unawares at his near post with a cunning, low angled drive which the keeper was relieved to gather.

Referee Peter Jones evened up the bookings tally in the 53rd minute, yellow carding Iversen after he had caught O'Neill with a clumsy challenge.

But a spirited spell from Boro brought its reward when Karembeu fed Fleming, whose deep centre was met with a meaty Summerbell header which flew past Sullivan.

Okon was the next player in trouble, lunging into Sherwood and earning the game's third caution in the 71st minute.

Two minutes later, Spurs should have regained the lead when Iversen seized on Steve Vickers' mistake but spurned a glorious opportunity by blasting over the bar.

Tottenham sent on Les Ferdinand in place of Rebrov and the former Newcastle striker soon had the ball in the net, only to be denied by an offside flag.

Robson later explained that Boksic was still "very stiff and sore'' following his exertions at Coventry in what was his only game since the end of last season.

"Alen had no pre-season games and Ince and Cooper had picked up knocks,'' said Robson. "But I'm hopeful all three will be available for the game against Leeds."

Robson declared himself satisfied with a return of four points from Boro's opening two games. "It's an encouraging start, especially as I had to make three enforced changes tonight'' said Robson.

"I'm pleased with the way Mark Summerbell has come on as a player. I've felt at times he was too negative in his game, but it was encouraging to see him get forward and score."

Spurs boss Graham, meanwhile, couldn't resist a dig at David Ginola, who moved to Aston Villa this summer claiming the manager had forced him out of White Hart Lane.

Leonhardsen filled Ginola's old left-sided role and when it was pointed out that the Frenchman didn't score many headed goals, Graham exclaimed: "I'm pleased someone has noticed that!'