MIDDLESBROUGH saw a chance to reach the summit of the Championship evaporate in the sweltering Teesside heat – on a night Leicester’s big-spenders posted a reminder of the dangers lurking in the second-tier promotion race.
With no goals but plenty of guile, Tony Mowbray won’t be panicking yet about a Riverside run that has seen them record just one win out of four home engagements so far.
At least not while they keep defending as doughtily as they did in the first half, when Leicester’s blue-chip acquisitions threatened to breach a Boro defence that has not conceded a league goal for some six hours.
But regardless of a result which takes them level at the top of the table, Mowbray was left with plenty to chew on as his side failed to find the goalscoring form that has seen them become such a dangerous animal away from home.
They had chances in this engaging contest – not least when Joe Bennett strode with purpose through the Leicester defence and tested Kasper Schmeichel with a fierce low drive in the early stages of the second half.
But overall there wasn’t quite enough to turn some typically neat Boro play into something more substantial.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the night was a crowd that couldn’t quite creep past the 17,000 mark. Granted, the recession continues to have far-reaching consequences in these parts, but Mowbray’s team are playing smart, slick football and deserve better backing from the long-suffering locals. On the pitch it was a below-par display from Marvin Emnes that caused most consternation.
Seemingly struggling for his usual sharpness due to an ankle injury, he failed to fire and Boro couldn’t conjure the goals from elsewhere to make the most of Southampton’s struggles in South Wales.
A first half bristling with attacking intent yielded no goals, but it wasn’t for the want of trying.
Boro’s incisive, crisp passing game helped them make the early running but by the interval it was Eriksson’s Foxes, all pace and power on the counter-attack, who were in the ascendancy.
Nicky Bailey’s early pot shot was a sign of things to come, his effort soaring over the bar as the Boro midfielder pushed Leicester on to the back foot.
But it was the visitors who looked more threatening in the final third, with former England striker Darius Vassell twice breaching the Boro defence only for skipper Matthew Bates to intervene and clear the danger.
It still felt as if Leicester possessed more threat on the break, though, and they nearly carved Boro open a few minutes into the second half when a neat passing move found space for Yuki Abe to blaze across the Boro goal.
The home side’s riposte was immediate, with left-back Joe Bennett bursting from deep to hammer a low shot that tested Schmeichel again.
And on the 69-minute mark they really should have drawn first blood when Bailey rose above Matt Mills to meet a Barry Robson cross. But he failed to make proper contact with a glanced header and a golden chance went begging.
Substitute Gelson Fernandes then tested Boro’s loan ‘keeper Carl Ikeme with a long range shot that was parried – but Vassell couldn’t gobble up the rebound as Leicester pressed in vain for a goal.
In stoppage time Julio Arca, on for Robson, stretched to try to connect with a Faris Haroun cross in the last meaningful chance of the match.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Ikeme, McMahon, Bates, Rhys Williams, Hoyte (Thomson 83), Robson (Arca 83), Bailey, Haroun, Bennett, Emnes, McDonald (Nimely 61). Subs (not used): Zemmama, McManus.
Booked: Bates, Haroun, Thomson.
LEICESTER: Schmeichel, Peltier, Mills, Bamba, Konchesky, Wellens (Danns 77), Abe, Johnson (Fernandes 61), King, Vassell, Beckford (Schlupp 48). Subs (not used): Weale, Pantsil.
Att: 16, 883. Ref: Tony Bates (Staffordshire).