Burnley 1 Middlesbrough 1: Boro on the receiving end for a change as automatic race hots up

Middlesbrough suffered a taste of their own medicine as a stoppage-time equaliser from Burnley defender Michael Keane in a 1-1 draw prevented them going four points clear at the top of the Sky Bet Championship.

Middlesbrough's Jordan Rhodes celebrates scoring the first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Turf Moor, Burnley.

The Clarets’ 19-game unbeaten streak in the division looked as if it was about to be ended by a 70th-minute strike from Jordan Rhodes, the striker who left their east Lancashire neighbours Blackburn for £9m at the conclusion of the last transfer window.

A loss would have seen Sean Dyche’s men slip into third, one point behind Brighton and five adrift of Boro, who had moved ahead of the pack with last-gasp winners in three of their past six games.

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However, this time it was Burnley’s turn to leave it late to produce a result and keep themselves two points behind Boro as Keane claimed a dramatic leveller, as he had done in a 2-2 draw against the Seagulls earlier this month.

Aitor Karanka questioned why the Clarets resorted to a direct style in their quest for a leveller.

“It’s football; we scored two goals in the last minute against Reading and against Bolton - (on Tuesday) they scored,” he said.

“The way we scored those goals, we always try to play good football and to arrive in the box playing football; they played just with long balls, that’s the difference.

“We had our chances to score the second and the third and with George (Friend) and Gaston (Ramirez)’s injuries I had to make substitutions. The game was under control for us.

“They scored because they decided to play long balls and it’s difficult to understand with that squad to play long balls. That’s their style and it’s been good for them.

“If you look at the games where we scored against Reading and Bolton, we try to always play football. It’s my decision, my style and I am really proud of all of them. When we lose, we lose with our style; when we win, we win with our style.”

Karanka had taken a leaf out of mentor Jose Mourinho’s mind-games book with a pre-match suggestion he would have had this Burnley squad promoted by February and if those incendiary comments had not fanned the flames, Grant Leadbitter’s crunching tackle on Joey Barton in the third minute certainly did.

With the hosts’ 19-game unbeaten streak pitted against the visitors’ own sequence of six successive victories, this was always likely to be a tense, nervy affair and Burnley looked less assured than normal to start.

Albert Adomah collected a corner cleared to him on the edge of the area by Keane’s header and smashed a 13th-minute attempt against the top of the crossbar while Rhodes could not get decent contact on a diving header from Gaston Ramirez’s centre.

Burnley had their moments before the break too, with Barton driving a half-volley wide and Scott Arfield then blazing over from a great position inside the area after Andre Gray had fed him following good work initially by Sam Vokes.

Chances were sparse at the start of the second period as well, though Adomah drove wide having been teed up by Ramirez and he should have done better when stealing in at the back post only to miscue an attempt from Stewart Downing’s delivery.

Some of the home side appealed in vain for a penalty to be awarded for handball against Daniel Ayala when he blocked a Stephen Ward shot but, for the most part, the Clarets were struggling to create chances.

The division’s leading marksman and recently-crowned Championship player of the year Gray was having a night as quiet as Rhodes’ own evening, but one multi-million pound striker would end up finding the net.

From Downing’s free-kick, Ayala won his header in the air against Keane and Rhodes was typically around the knockdown to flick the ball beyond Tom Heaton.

George Boyd and Ashley Barnes saw goal-bound shots blocked and substitute Matt Taylor’s free-kick was deflected wide, but Keane did pop up to lash in from a corner and prevent Boro recording seven wins in a row for the first time since 1987.