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Middlesbrough wasted a golden opportunity to boost their survival hopes as they were held to a goalless draw by Burnley at the Riverside Stadium.
Boro are six points shy of safety and it appears the writing is on the wall with their remaining seven fixtures including games against Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.
It was at times a turgid spectacle played at a slow tempo, which was a surprise considering what was at stake for the Teesside club.
Their best chances came in the second half. First, substitute Alvaro Negredo produced a wonderful overhead kick that keeper Tom Heaton did well to push away. Burnley defender Matt Lowton then made successive goalline clearances in the closing minutes – first to deny Stewart Downing and then Daniel Ayala.
The Clarets – yet to win on their league travels this season – barely threatened the Boro goal, although they did hit the crossbar through Robbie Brady’s free-kick.
The point moves the visitors eight points clear of the Premier League drop zone.
This was the match many thought would see Boro end their run of 14 league games without a win – but not until the last five minutes did that look a possibility.
Their former goalscoring hero Bernie Slaven feared the worst on BBC’s Football Focus earlier, when he suggested his old team had not shown urgency in recent months.
That urgency did rear its head, though only in the closing stages after coach Steve Agnew finally decided to twist by bringing on attackers Negredo and Adama Traore.
Soon after his introduction, Negredo almost became a “super sub” when his brilliant overhead kick was palmed away by the alert Heaton.
They were then twice denied by brilliant defending from Lowton. The 27-year-old defensive player valiantly cleared Downing’s goalbound free-kick before hacking Ayala’s header off the line.
With a tough run-in coming up, it looks like Boro’s days are numbered.
Yes, Burnley have not won on the road in the league, but the display against Middlesbrough must have felt like a win.
They denied Boro space right from the kick-off and when they were tested in the final minutes Sean Dyche’s men were up to the task.
His general that deserves a medal is Lowton, who made two vital clearances. And at the other end, Stephen Ward was exceptional down the wing in a game where the Clarets attack underwhelmed.
They were perhaps lucky not to play the last nine minutes with 10 men after Michael Keane appeared to bring down Patrick Bamford, who would have been through on goal. Referee Martin Atkinson only showed a yellow card.
The Clarets have three more matches at home – where they have picked up most of their points this season. They could secure their safety with victory over Manchester United at Turf Moor on 23 April.
Middlesbrough head coach Steve Agnew: “We had the chances came in the second half.
“Alvaro [Negredo] had the over-head kick and there was Stewy Downing’s free-kick that was going in but cleared off the line.
“I thought the lads were terrific in terms of their effort and commitment, and I thought we deserved to win the game.
“You have to give Stewy credit, he stood up and did everything he could’ve done. That’s the quality that he and the rest of the players have. It was a game that we’re disappointed to not have won.”
On the challenge on Bamford:
“It was a disappointing decision. The defender was on the wrong side. Patrick was in control of the ball and would have had a shot on goal.”
On their survival hopes:
“It leaves us six points short of where we need to be with a game in hand.”
Middlesbrough are at home to fifth-place Arsenal on Monday, 17 April (20:00 BST). Burnley are away at Everton next Saturday (15:00).