Middlesbrough 0 Burnley 0: Boro continue slow, lingering goodbye to the Premier League after bore draw

Jason Mellor
Victor Valdes denies Sam Vokes - REUTERS

Steve Agnew admitted it was an opportunity missed, though he insisted that the fight for survival is not yet futile. While it was possible to concur with his the former sentiment, it was difficult to do the same with the latter.

Middlesbrough remain propped-up in the table only by Sunderland, and while they retain a game in hand, against their seemingly-doomed North-East neighbours at the end of the month, and also trimmed the gap to fourth-bottom Hull to six points, their stay in the top flight looks increasingly likely to be confined to a single campaign.

Burnley have themselves become adept one-season Premier League wonders in recent years, but that is about to change. With only a fourth point away from Turf Moor this term, they edged closer to securing back-to-back years in the top flight for the first time since the mid-1970s.

"I think we've got more points at this stage than many people thought we would," reflected Sean Dyche, the manager, whose side are eight points clear of 18th-place Swansea.

On his return to one of his former clubs, the watching Gareth Southgate would no doubt have concluded that the country's prospects in central defence look rather more rosy than Middlesbrough's future at this level. That was in part thanks to another accomplished performance from Burnley's newest full international, Michael Keane, the latest in a long list of assured displays which was matched by his Middlesbrough counterpart Ben Gibson. 

The hosts couldn't be faulted for their endeavour, but not for the first time this season they lacked a cutting edge in the final third. Their wait to secure a fifth league win of the season stands at 112 days and counting since Swansea were defeated here in the run-up Christmas.

Equally, Agnew in no way could stand accused of failing to freshening things up, the caretaker manager employing a fourth change of system in his fourth game in charge by employing three centre-backs. While it provided plenty of width, the division's lowest scorers drew a blank for the 16th time this season. 

Burnley keeper Tom Heaton showed stunning reactions to block substitute Alvaro Negredo's acrobatic scissor-kick volley midway through the second-half to ensure they returned across the Pennines with some reward, and Dyche's side weren't without their own chances.

Patrick Bamford appeals to the referee after being fouled by Michael Keane Credit: REUTERS

Robby Brady, whose early free-kick grazed the cross bar, should have put them ahead early in the second-half when Ashley Barnes's dummy left him with time and space in the area, but the Irishman fired wide. Victor Valdes matched Heaton's heroics with a point-blank block from Sam Vokes.  

As Middlesbrough threw numbers forward to force a winner, Keane was fortunate to escape with a yellow card when he tangled with Patrick Bamford on the edge of the box as the former Burnley loan forward bore in on goal.

Matt Lowton's glancing header prevented Stewart Downing's free-kick from finding the net, and from the ensuing corner the full-back was again stationed perfectly to clear off the line from Daniel Ayala.

The ball subsequently found its way into the net, but was ruled out for handball by Negredo.

"It's a missed opportunity given the other results," Agnew conceded. "But we're six off it with an extra game to go so it's all to play for."

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