A SPLIT-SECOND of instinctive brilliance, and a goalkeeping error. On a day when the attacking shortcomings of both Middlesbrough and Sunderland were evident, it was probably fitting that it took two moments out of the ordinary to settle the Tees-Wear derby.

Sunderland shaded the first half, but never looked like scoring while they had Mason Burstow and Abdoullah Ba notionally leading their line, with the pair either spurning decent openings or failing to ask any serious questions of the Boro defence. Even when Nazariy Rusyn came onto the field to offer a more physical threat, he still needed a bad mistake from Boro goalkeeper Tom Glover to level the scores.

Middlesbrough were the better side for much of the second period, but with Sam Greenwood repeatedly running offside as he attempted to lead the line, the Teessiders were indebted to a moment of magic from Marcus Forss to break the deadlock shortly after the hour mark. Forss’ swivelled volleyed finish was superb, but it was hardly in keeping with the rest of an afternoon that underlined just how effective both teams could be if they had a proven number nine leading the line.

As a result, while a draw enabled both sides to claim a degree of success, it didn’t really do anything to strengthen either’s promotion claims. Sunderland are only a point outside the play-off places, with Boro still three points behind them, with a game in hand. On this evidence, though, they will both have to improve significantly in the final third to be a genuine factor in the end-of-season battle for a place in the Premier League.

Unlike in the reverse fixture at the Stadium of Light, when Boro ran riot against a ten-man Sunderland side, this was a game in which both teams had to battle hard to gain the ascendancy, and in which neither was able to finish on top.

Michael Carrick’s home side tended to play the slicker football, knitting together intricate passes through midfield before attempting to spring one of their forward players into the 18-yard box. Their problem was that, without the injured Emmanuel Latte Lath and Josh Coburn, who was only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench, the forward players that were on the field lacked the clinical edge required to seriously trouble the Sunderland defence.

Sunderland’s attacking was more fitful, but the visitors enjoyed success from the wide positions, particularly down the right where Ba and Trai Hume were often able to double up on an exposed Lukas Engel. Again, though, the Black Cats’ forward players were either wasteful, as in the case of Ba, whose decision-making let him down on a number of occasions, or largely invisible, as was the case with Burstow, who barely had a kick as he filled the ‘number nine’ role.

That said, though, it was not a derby that was devoid of chances. Boro’s best opening came in just the ninth minute, but was wasted through Finn Azaz’s lack of composure.

Engel’s through ball sent Greenwood, playing as Boro’s central forward, through the middle, and when his shot was saved by Anthony Patterson, the ball broke invitingly to Azaz who was loitering just outside the box.

With Patterson still on the ground, the January signing from Aston Villa had the goal at his mercy, but he never looked comfortable and hammered a wayward effort over the crossbar.

While Hayden Hackney had a couple of decent efforts, one of which was blocked by Sunderland debutant Leo Hjelde inside the 18-yard box, Patterson’s early stop from Greenwood was the only save the Black Cats goalkeeper had to make before the interval.

Glover was slightly busier at the other end, although as was the case with his opposite number, the Boro shot-stopper might have been more over-worked had the players lining up against him been even remotely effective in the final third.

Glover made a decent early stop at his near post from Jack Clarke, and also produced first-half parries to deny Trai Hume and Ba, but the latter erred badly on two occasions towards the end of the opening period to ensure the scoresheet remained blank.

First, the French youngster shot wastefully into the side-netting after turning inside Engel when Pierre Ekwah was completely unmarked in the middle, but that was nothing compared to the chance that went begging five minutes later.

Having broken towards the byline on the left-hand side, Jobe Bellingham slipped a square ball to Clarke inside the six-yard box. The winger found his route to goal blocked by an advancing Glover, so intelligently shuffled the ball sideways to Ba. He had more than half of the goal to aim at, but somehow managed to fire a shot straight at Rav van den Berg, who was stood next to the post on the goalline. In the context of such a tight game, it was a really bad miss.

It was, however, indicative of much of the afternoon. Or at least it was until Forss finally produced a moment of brilliance to break the deadlock just after the hour mark.

A short free-kick looked to have been wasted when Greenwood’s long-range shot was blocked, but the ball looped towards Forss on the edge of the area.

The Finn produced an excellent piece of control, then swivelled adroitly to dispatch a clinical volley into the bottom corner. Carrick might remain convinced that Forss’ best position is on the right rather than playing through the middle, but with one swish of his right foot, the 24-year-old provided a compelling case to suggest he is the most accomplished marksman on either side of the Tees-Wear divide.

With Greenwood going close to extending Boro’s lead as he dragged a shot across the face of goal following another incisive through ball from Engel, Michael Beale turned to his bench in an attempt to change the course of the game, bringing on Patrick Roberts for the wasteful Ba and Rusyn for the bitterly-disappointing Burstow.

It was a double change that was to change the course of the game. Sunderland showed signs of stirring with ten minutes left, with Dan Ballard glancing a header just wide of the far post after Clarke swung in an inviting free-kick from the left.

Even so, there wasn’t really much sign of the visitors claiming an equaliser before Rusyn scored his second goal in Sunderland colours with seven minutes left.

Clarke picked out the Ukrainian with a raking cross-field ball, but his effort from the edge of the area should really have been saved by Glover. Instead, the Australian allowed the ball to squeeze under him, with his subsequent beating of the floor in frustration proving that even he accepted he should have kept it out.

Sunderland’s players could not really believe their luck, although to their credit, they finished the game strongly in the final quarter-of-an-hour, with Clarke, in particular, raising his threat level. Rusyn’s finish was fortunate, but simply by offering a physical presence and a willingness to pull defenders out of position, the Ukrainian was a marked upgrade on Burstow.

Boro will feel it was a game that got away from them, and Glover’s error certainly makes it less likely that he will retain his place in the side once Seny Dieng returns to full fitness. It is at the other end of the field where Carrick really needs players back though. If Coburn remains sporadically unavailable, and Latte Lath is sidelined for the next month, the lack of a cutting edge could prove costly.