6:00am Monday 24th February 2014
By Paul Fraser
Full-time: Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 0
IN the space of just three months, Shay Given became a firm fans favourite at the Riverside Stadium. In the remaining few months of the campaign, it will be hoped another of Middlesbrough's other loan rangers can be held in such regard at the other end of the pitch.
There might be more players around to help out in putting the ball in the back of the net, but Aitor Karanka is in desperate need of seeing Danny Graham find the sort of magic which will earn him a hero tag on Teesside.
Ten hours and 14 minutes have elapsed since Emmanuel Ledesma scored a fortuitous winner against Charlton on January 18. Not only have Middlesbrough not scored a goal through the whole of February, the 614-minute barren spell is the worst in the club's history.
So while Given was rightly applauded and worshipped by the fans for keeping ten clean sheets during his 16-match loan stint, the need for Middlesbrough to rediscover the scoring touch is even greater now.
Graham, signed on loan from Sunderland on deadline day, is the man leading the line and the the man likeliest to turn things around in the lone striker system Karanka is determined to stick with.
If the 28-year-old can recapture the sort of form which made him a goal-machine at Watford during his last spell in the Championship, he could be adored similarly to Given when he says his goodbyes at the end of the season.
And how Middlesbrough need someone to shine in front of goal right now. It is six matches since they won a game and that has dealt hopes of a play-off place a severe blow.
Karanka mixed his forward line up in the hope of seeing an improvement in output against Leeds. Despite creating plenty of chances in the second half, however, the outcome was still the same. Nothing.
Rather than start with natural wingers such as Albert Adomah and Mustapha Carayol – who was completely left out with Karanka suggesting he “didn't like his attitude” – strikers Curtis Main and Kei Kamara provided the width.
The tinkering did not really have instant results and it was deep in to the second half when Middlesbrough created more in the box, even if Jack Butland was in inspired form to keep them out.
"I made a lot of changes and the players who came in played very well,” said Karanka. “We created chances and for me the most important thing is the way we play.
"It's another point and another clean sheet - but another game without a goal. It's not the same situation as last Saturday when we lost at Watford. We played well and showed a very good attitude on the pitch here, we tried to win the game and that gives me confidence for the future.
“If we continue to play like that then the goals will arrive for us. We need to keep our confidence up. I made a lot of changes and the players who came in played very well. I don't think there's a problem with confidence. Obviously we're struggling to score goals but confidence isn't an issue.”
There are still smiles on the players' faces and an appreciation of the Spanish coach's methods, which was reflected in the way Middlesbrough played in the second half.
Inevitably, though, the morale and the confidence will slowly deteriorate the longer the goal drought goes on and it will be paramount that Middlesbrough's defensive efficiency does not take a knock following Given's departure.
The Irishman's experience has rubbed off on the defence in front of him regardless of who has been playing. Kenneth Omeruo was the latest player to be fielded at the heart of the back four against Leeds and he impressed, forming a strong understanding with Jonathan Woodgate.
Between the those three, and the two full-backs George Friend and Jozsef Varga, they prevented Leeds from recording any shots on target. When Given did make an exceptional save, the whistle had already blown for offside.
Boro’s George Friend closes down Jimmy Kebe
Karanka, who could recall fit again Jason Steele at Sheffield Wednesday this Saturday, is sad to be losing Given.
He said: “Shay deserves all the best. It's been amazing to work with him. He's a great person and a great professional - a true example. I'd like to thank him for his time here and my English isn't good enough to express my admiration for him.”
Yet Given – given a standing ovation when he departed at the end - was not the stand-out performer at the Riverside this time. That was the other loan goalkeeper on show, Butland, who only arrived on loan from Stoke City on Thursday.
The 20-year-old made a fine save to deny Jacob Butterfield in the first half and then he thwarted Graham and Adomah after the restart. The latter, in particular, had two fantastic chances after he was introduced as a second half substitute.
The Ghana international's first was when he brought down Ledesma's through pass with his chest before Butland raced out to save when the winger was clean through. Butland was not even required for the second chance, when Adomah somehow missed the target in stoppage time when a certain winner looked on the cards.
The elusive late winner never arrived. Middlesbrough continue to stutter and if fading play-off hopes are to strengthen then it must be Graham and Co's time to shine.
BORO'S LONGEST GOAL DROUGHT
MIDDLESBROUGH'S inability to find the net against Leeds United means it is now more than ten hours since they scored a goal.
In reaching 614 minutes without scoring, Aitor Karanka's side now hold the unwanted record of the longest spell without scoring in the club's history.
The class of 2014 have overtaken the previous all competitions worst of 593-minutes set by John Neal's team in 1978.
And also the league worst set by Gareth Southgate's relegation crop in 2009.
Here's the run of games which makes Karanka's team record breakers:
Middlesbrough 1 (Ledesma 16) Charlton 0
Leicester 2 Middlesbrough 0
Middlesbrough 0 Wigan 0
Doncaster 0 Middlesbrough 0
Middlesbrough 0 Blackburn 0
Watford 1 Middlesbrough 0
Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 0
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