Saturday, February 21, 2009

Middlesbrough 0-0 Wigan

Former Middlesbrough midfielder Lee Cattermole was at the centre of controversy on his return to the Riverside Stadium as Gareth Southgate saw his side's dismal league run stretched to 14 games without a win following the 0-0 draw.

Cattermole's clattering 16th minute challenge led to Boro's French midfielder Didier Digard being stretchered off and taken to hospital while he was also at the centre of incidents which saw Gary O'Neil and Afonso Alves booked for diving.

But the bare facts from an unnecessarily fractious encounter were that Boro failed to score for their fifth league game in a row and remain firmly rooted in the relegation zone with Southgate's job under increasing threat.

Stewart Downing and O'Neil had the best chances to ease Southgate's pain late on but Wigan were generally full value for a point and referee Mike Dean appeared to have got the big decisions correct.

The omens had not been good given Boro's recent travails and the visitors' woeful record of just three goals in seven league starts, and true to form it would take half an hour for either team to fashion a shot on target.

Southgate, who had the luxury of naming an unchanged team for only the second time this season, would have been happier with the opening spell in which Downing was prominent but let down by his final ball.

Wigan, lacking the creative influence of the injured Antonio Valencia, were nowhere in the opening quarter-hour but the face of the game changed in the 16th minute when Cattermole's challenge left Digard pole-axed.

The Frenchman was stretchered off after lengthy treatment and Boro fans vented their fury upon their former hero, despite television replays suggesting referee Mike Dean had been right to let him off.

Later updates confirmed Digard had been taken straight to hospital for tests on a thigh injury - worryingly, the same injury that had ruled the player out for a large portion of last season.

Boro had their best chance of the game in the 34th minute when Downing made space just inside the left side of the box and fired a low shot which was tipped out for a corner by the alert Chris Kirkland.

And from the resulting corner the ball also eventually fell to Downing who this time drilled a low effort just past the post to Kirkland's right as Boro suddenly looked worthy of a half-time lead.

But Wigan also came close three minutes later when Charles N'Zogbia spun in a left-footed free-kick from the edge of the Boro box which the alert Brad Jones did well to palm away.

Boro's indiscipline cost them dear in first-half injury time when they had two players booked for diving - first O'Neil who stumbled under the attentions of Emmerson Boyce and Cattermole.

And minutes later Alves fell on the half-way line close to Cattermole - who had already been booked - and this time the Brazilian was yellow-carded, with replays again suggesting Dean had been right on both occasions.

Desperate for three points to stop his side's slump towards the bottom of the table, Southgate introduced extra strikers Jeremie Aliadiere and Tuncay Sanli early in the second half.

The Turkish striker certainly added some urgency up front and was unlucky not to wriggle free of Titus Bramble in the Wigan box as the home side's anxiety for a winner increased.

Michael Brown missed a fine chance to give the visitors the lead in the 66th minute when substitute Hugo Rodallega found space to fire in a cross from the right and Brown's volley in front of goal squirted narrowly wide.

Alves poked a shot into Kirkland's arms in the 73rd minute then Downing nipped in to dispossess Mario Melchiot and break through on goal before the Wigan skipper redeemed himself with a fantastic saving tackle.

But Wigan would have a golden chance of their own five minutes later when the lively Rodallega latched onto a long ball from Melchiot but could only steer an attempted lob over Jones' bar.

Southgate's hope finally ran out in the 86th minute when O'Neil drove a shot goalwards only to see his effort deflected tot safety off keeper Kirkland's legs.

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