Middlesbrough 0 Fulham 0 - Boro draw blank to lose ground in title race

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Middlesbrough lost ground on Sky Bet Championship leaders Brighton after being held to a goalless draw by Fulham.

The hosts failed to break down their opponents at the Riverside and subsequently slipped to third behind Reading and the Seagulls.

Boro, sitting two points off top, were desperate to triumph following their 2-0 loss at Reading prior to the international break.

That defeat ended a seven-game winning run for the north-east club, although there was no sign of the class on show during that streak in a drab opening half.

Middlesbrough improved following the interval, although Fulham - led by the tireless Ross McCormack - had their moments.

Yet neither could muster a decisive breakthrough, McCormack missing the best chance in the dying moments, and Boro slipped four points behind Brighton - who earned a late 2-1 win at Leeds.

Both teams struggled to find their rhythm during the opening exchanges, McCormack firing the first effort over from 20 yards.

That seemed to raise the spirits of the visitors, who almost took the lead in the ninth minute.

Ryan Tunnicliffe showed great endeavour on the right before being denied by Dimi Konstantopoulos, with Daniel Ayala producing a fine sliding challenge to deny McCormack a simple tap-in.

Seemingly reawakened, Middlesbrough hit back as Stewart Downing sent in a fine low cross that Diego Fabbrini curled narrowly wide.

Aitor Karanka’s men enjoyed a good spell thereafter, although they were not able to turn possession into any real chances.

The same was true of their opponents as the game took on an increasingly end-to-end feel, with Fulham failing to capitalise on some threatening moments.

Middlesbrough flew out of the blocks early in the second period and their pressure almost brought reward when George Friend forced Andy Lonergan into a smart save from range.

Downing was next to threaten, cutting in from the right and curling narrowly over the crossbar.

Karanka introduced Albert Adomah for the listless Carlos De Pena, and the winger almost made an immediate impact when forcing Richard Stearman into a defensive header that fell to Grant Leadbitter - who blazed over.

Much like in the opening half, though, Fulham came back at the hosts, with Jamie O’Hara’s powerful volley forcing a save from Konstantopoulos.

Both teams pressed for a winner as the game wore on, and Adomah stung the gloves of Lonergan.

That stop paled into comparison to the one produced by his opposite number in the 70th minute, Konstantopoulos diving to beat away McCormack’s fizzing strike one-handed.

An even better opportunity fell to the Scottish forward in injury time but, following good work from Moussa Dembele and Tunnicliffe, he curled over from 12 yards.

Aitor Karanka bemoaned promotion-chasing Middlesbrough’s disappointing display ahead of back-to-back away games against Cardiff and Wolves.

“We didn’t play the way we usually do,” he said. “I am especially disappointed with the start because you need to begin well at home.

“We know sides will do this (try to frustrate us), but we have to find a way to win the game - especially at home.

“We have three games away in two weeks now, so that’s disappointing. I can understand the crowd being frustrated, because I felt the same way.”

The boss also accused Fulham of time-wasting during the clash, although he admitted it had little impact on the result.

Karanka continued: “They were always trying to waste time, from the beginning of the game.

“I spoke to the referee at half-time, but I thought it was the same in the second half. However, I thought the score was fair.”

Karanka insisted, too, that he is unconcerned about the table at this stage of the campaign.

He added: “I prefer to think about the game today rather than worry about the table. We have to play Cardiff on Tuesday and now we’re focussing on that.

“Perhaps after the Wolves game next weekend, I can sit in the press conference after two away wins.”

Opposite number Kit Symons conceded that he has spoken to his players about “managing the game” better, yet refuted Karanka’s assertion of any real gamesmanship.

“They [Middlesbrough] were having a bit of a grumble during the first half,” he said. “It wasn’t something we set out to do.

“We’ve had a few chats about managing the game better and you come to somewhere like here, you’re not going to go rushing after balls when you’re drawing.”

Speaking about the result, Symons added: “It’s mixed emotions, but to come here, get a clean sheet and a point is very pleasing.

“In the end, we could have won the game, but I am pleased - and that is the overriding feeling at the moment.”