By Simon Evans
MIDDLESBROUGH, England (Reuters) - On the evidence produced in their goalless draw at the Riverside on Saturday there is a strong likelihood that Middlesbrough and Burnley will end this season exactly where they are now -- and if they do, they can blame a common weakness.
Boro are next to bottom and facing the strong likelihood of relegation and an immediate return to the Championship.
Burnley, who were promoted with Middlesbrough last season, are 12th and should be safe from the fear of the drop but they have been unable to win a single away game all season.
What the two teams share was all too evident on Saturday - a lack of sharpness, creativity and flair in the final third of the field.
The closest Burnley came to a breakthrough was two freekicks from winger Robbie Brady -- one which clipped the bar and the other which whistled just over.
There was not a single chance created for their leading striker Andre Gray while his partner Ashley Barnes rarely threatened.
The Clarets are solid, well-organised, extremely hard-working and well-drilled by their impressive manager Sean Dyche and at home they have found a way to grind out wins.
Yet on the road, where chances are rarer and moments of inspiration are needed to open up home defences, Burnley have been unable to turn their effort into three points.
"I thought we were very resolute throughout to be honest and perhaps the one gripe I have of my side is that we get in some fantastic positions and lack that one moment of quality," said Dyche.
"We had three or four unbelievable situations today, but certainly in the end there was no lack of effort and we put our bodies on the line when it got tough."
It is not just a question of forwards -- both Gray and his frequent strike partner Sam Vokes are good finishers -- when what is missing from the Clarets' approach is a midfielder capable of opening up an opposition defence.
On the flanks, too, Burnley are better known for graft than craft.
Robbie Brady, a January arrival from Norwich City, is showing signs of being able to bring something different and inspired to Burnley's play in wide areas and Dyche will surely look to inject some creativity from the transfer market in the close-season.
Boro boss Steve Agnew might well be recruiting for a different division unless his side can start to address the league's lowest goalscoring total -- 22 from 31 games.
His team has plenty of quality in midfield, with neat and tidy players like Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter, and a solid backline with centre-half Ben Gibson winning many admirers.
On Saturday, though, striker Rudy Gestede got little service and it was only when Agnew went all out attack with three substitute forwards up-front that Boro looked like grabbing a winner.
The likely return of Uruguayan midfielder Gaston Ramirez from injury may provide some spark for Middlesbrough but they could well pay the price for lacking that most elusive element that all teams search for -- the player with the ability to provide the unexpected.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ian Chadband)