Doncaster 0 Middlesbrough 0: Stalemate at Keepmoat

Rovers' Billy Sharp lets fly against Boro's  George Friend.
Rovers' Billy Sharp lets fly against Boro's George Friend.
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A LARGELY dire, wind-ravaged stalemate ended with honours even as both combatants had to settle for a point.

Chances were at a premium in an uneventful encounter, with the best chance falling at the feet of Chris Brown in the 59th minute, only for the former Sunderland striker to fire over with the goal at his mercy.

It extends Rovers’ wait for back-to-back league wins this term, but it at least extended their unbeaten run following an upturn last month.

Boro’s new-found solidity was the main plus for the visitors, although the fact they had just one decent effort on goal was conclusive proof that they remain a work in progress in the attacking third, having now failed to score a goal in their last three matches.

The game saw Rovers hand a shock debut to loan signing Sam Johnstone, with former Boro keeper Ross Turnbull missing out due to a calf injury.

The young Manchester United custodian, brought in on transfer deadline day, was totally under-employed in a quiet visiting opening, with both sides forced to come to terms with a fierce wind which swirled around the Keepmoat.

That said, Rovers showed some early positivity and endeavour, especially in the shape of Mark Duffy, full of confidence after his goal in midweek against Charlton.

The first effort of note saw Paul Keegan fire over before Guisborough-born James Coppinger, a boyhood Boro fan, flicked a header wide after a teasing cross from Duffy.

At the other end, Boro - who handed full debuts to Chelsea loan duo Kenneth Omeruo and Nathaniel Chalobah - struggled for rhythm in testing conditions, with Curtis Main ploughing a lone furrow up front, with new signing Danny Graham on the bench.

Emmanuel Ledesma was then penalised for a high boot on James Husband, with Coppinger’s free-kick in a promising position crashing into the wall, with Rovers’ appeals for handball rebuffed by referee Andy Davies.

Rovers continued to held sway without creating substantive chances, although they handed a Boro a scare when Shay Given had to be alert to punch clear a Duffy cross with Billy Sharp lurking in the vicinity.

Neat work by Richie Wellens, Sharp and Chris Brown ended with the latter firing in a rising shot which was comfortably held by Given, while at the other end, Boro were struggling to piece together anything in the shape of attacking threat with their passing game stymied by the conditions.

The Teessiders, backed by a big sell-out 4,250 travelling contingent, finally managed to piece together some semblance of danger when a fine crossfield ball from Ledesma picked out Mustapha Carayol, who evaded Gabby Tamas before firing over a left-wing cross, which fizzed across goal in the strong wind, with the chance gone.

Dean Furman replaced Paul Keegan at the interval for Rovers, while fourth official Mark Brown also entered the fray for referee Andy Davies to take on duties in the middle.

Boro, whose only weapon in the first half was the pace of Carayol, who seemed to have the beating of Tamas, made no changes at the break, with the pattern of the early stages of the second period following the first, with the visitors struggling to get bodies forward to support Main.

Finally, if belatedly, Boro burst into life in the 53th minute with their first real chance.

It came at the feet of Carayol, who raced clear following a telling throughball from Chalobah, with the winger homing in on goal before firing a low shot inches wide.

Cajoled on the sidelines by boss Aitor Karanka, eager for his side to generate some consistent momentum after some pretty low-key stuff prior to the Carayol chance, Boro appeared to finally be getting on message, with Main heading a chance at Johhstone after Ledesma’s cross.

Shortly before the hour mark, Rovers fans were left to curse matters somewhat after the hosts produced the chance of the match thus far, only for Brown to inexplicably fail to take it.

Duffy supplied Sharp, whose low cross picked out an unmarked Brown six yards out in front of goal, but at full stretch, he proceeded to slice the effort over in the massed ranks of relieved Boro fans.

The game was starting to suddenly warm up with Graham then entering the fray for his second debut for the Teessiders after his loan move from Sunderland, the cue to much applause from the visiting support as he added ballast to Boro’s frontline.

Without being wholly dominant, Boro started to gradually impose themselves more on proceedings, without carving out presentable chances.

But as the clock ticked on, it became clear that one goal from either side would be enough to seal all three points.

To their credit, Rovers showed the more intent, forcing several corners, but without getting on the end of them.

But the best final opportunity fell to Boro, with Grant Leadbitter benefitting from loose play from Abdoulaye Meite to switch the ball to Carayol and with the visitors pouring bodies forward, the winger saw his cross-shot flash wide of goal with no-one able to get a finishing touch.

Rovers did have a sniff of goal in stoppage time, but Brown couldn’t get a clean connection to sub David Cotterill’s floated corner as the game ended goalless.

Rovers: Johnstone; Tamas, Meite, Khumalo, Husband; Coppinger, Wellens, Keegan (Furman 46), Duffy (Cotterill 79); Brown, Sharp. Substitutes not used: Maxted, Quinn, De Val, Peterson, Stevens.

Middlesbrough: Given; Omeruo, Ayala (Kamara 88), Gibson, Friend; Ledesma, Butterfield (Whitehead 63), Leadbitter, Chalobah, Carayol; Main (Graham 64). Substitutes not used: Konstantopoulos, Varga, Hines, Brobbel.

Referee: A Davies (replaced by M Brown at half-time).

Attendance: 11,440 (4,254 Middlesbrough supporters).