Cash-strapped Portsmouth heaped yet more misery on Gordon Strachan’s Middlesbrough side, coming from two goals behind to grab a late draw at The Riverside.
Boro took a comfortable 2-0 lead into the break but once again failed to hold on to it courtesy of a David Nugent Header and a controversial late penalty from Liam Lawrence.
Both sides began the afternoon lingering dangerously above the relegation zone and little was to change after the final whistle, with the league’s pre season favourites left 15 points adrift of leaders QPR.
Gordon Strachan made four changes to the Boro side that lost to Derby in midweek; McDonald, Halliday, Bates and Thompson returned, with Pompey naming an unchanged line up following two straight wins. Kevin Thompson’s return to the Boro starting lineup after a lengthy injury was to last just six minutes, as he limped off following a strong challenge from Michael Brown.
The first real chance fell to David Nugent, whose shot hit the post after a mazy run from the left hand side. Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele was then called into action, turning a low Lawrence free kick wide. Portsmouth were then punished for their failure to convert chances; Matthew Bates fired home from a corner against the run of play to give Boro the lead. On the stroke of half time the home side doubled their lead; Barry Robson scoring from the spot after Joel Ward had brought down Scott McDonald inside the area.
Pompey continued to press forward after the break and were rewarded on the hour mark. A pinpoint cross from loan signing Liam Lawrence found the unmarked David Nugent, who powered in a downward header to bring his side back into the game. Steve Cotterill soon signalled his intent, switching to a 4-3-3 formation, replacing young centre back Joel Ward for Kanu, who immediately proved a handful for the Boro defence as he weaved his way through an array of players to set up Nugent, who fluffed his shot wide.
Middlesbrough Striker Kris Boyd had a chance to seal the win, but saw his effort flash wide of the far post. Moments later Portsmouth broke away and were awarded a controversial penalty just minutes from time. The referee allowed play to continue following a corner, but was then alerted by the linesman on the far side who appeared to have spotted an infringement on Portsmouth captain Aaron Mokoena. A red card was branded wrongly at Steven Mcmanus, then rectified as Barry Robson was given his marching orders.
A mêlée broke out as Boro players frantically swarmed the two officials following the referee’s decision to point to the spot. The responsibilty lay with Pompey’s star man Liam Lawrence, who dually tucked away the spot kick, sending Steele the wrong way and sending the pocket of travelling supporters into ecstasy.
The Riverside saw another worryingly low attendance (13,749) the club’s lowest ever for a league game; yet another indication of the on-field crisis faced by the club. The final whistle was met with boos of both frustration and anger by Boro fans, who see their side’s season slowly slip away.
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