BELEAGUERED Middlesbrough boss Gordon Strachan fears his injury woes have deepened after Chris Riggott limped off late in the lacklustre 1-1 draw with Swansea.
The influential central defender was substituted two minutes from time after taking a heavy knock on his suspect ankle.
An eve of game training injury to new boy Barry Robson was compounded by an overnight phone call reporting a suspected case of appendicitis for teenage front man Jonathan Franks leading to the boss hijacking the youth team coach bound for a clash with Newcastle.
Boro managed to field a respectable first XI against the Swans but the bench included three teenagers, four players who had never kicked-off in a senior game and could muster just 17 first team appearance between them.
“We’ve had to decimate the youth team just to turn out a bench and there can’t be many teams at this level who have had to do that,” said Strachan.
“We had two 16-year-olds, a 17-year-old, a few who have never started for the first team, a couple who have just had a few games off the bench... its not been ideal the last few weeks and its got a wee bit worse in the past few days. But we just have to deal with it.
Despite the selection problems threadbare Boro put in a gritty and functional performance full of industry and work-rate if sadly lacking finesse and finishing. Swansea maybe had the bulk of possession but Boro created the chances.
In front of a record low league gate at a bleak and muted Riverside they squandered a string of early openings with Leroy Lita personally spurning what could have been a hat-trick in the opening 15 minutes.
Boro were punished for a fatal lapse at the back as Swansea took the lead within two minutes of the restart, Gorko Pintado slamming home an angled drive from 12 yards out after Joe Allen skipped into the box and squared. But whereas in the past Boro have imploded after conceding this time they showed resolve and battled back – although it took a total fluke to claw level.
The freak equaliser came on 58 minutes as Celtic old boy Willo Flood capped a lively home debut by bursting down the right then floated in a deep diagonal cross that sailed over a crowded box then dipped, sending keeper De Vries back-pedalling furiously but in vain as the ball sneaked into the far top corner.
Strachan admitted the goal had been fortuitous – but insisted his side deserved the slice of luck.
“Willo didn’t mean that goal to go in and he would be the first to admit it but I think we deserve a wee break right now ,” said Strachan. “And I think we earned it too.”
Flood – who arrived in a transfer deal from Glasgow along with Barry Robson and Chris Killen – hopes his fluke goal from a fair way out can bring a change of luck for below par Boro.
“It was a fluke,” admitted the midfielder, after his long-range looping effort sailed in. “It was a like my golf shots off the tee, an absolute shank.
“But sometimes you get them and to be fair it is about time for us because we have been working hard and creating chances and just not getting the breaks.
“It hasn’t been falling for us lately, either the keeper makes a great save of the chances goes just wide or whatever so when it goes for you like that you don’t complain. Hopefully we have turned the corner now. Once we got the goal we were well on top and we need to carry that on at Doncaster and after that.
“Everyone knows we need to graft and I think everyone here is ready to do that and dig in for the gaffer. Once we get the one or two breaks we’ll be flowing again.”
MIDDLESBROUGH: Coyne, Hoyte, Riggott (Grounds 90), Wheater, McMahon (Bennett 78), Flood, O’Neil, Arca, Johnson, Lita (Luke Williams 78), Killen. Subs (not used): Steele, Walker, Pilatos, Park.
Booked: Arca. Goals: Flood 58.
SWANSEA: De Vries, Williams, Tate, Bessone, Monk, Dyer (Butler 68), Pratley, Allen (Gower 87), Britton, Pintado (Beattie 70), Cotterill. Subs (not used): Cornell, Orlandi, Trundle, Rangel.
Goals: Pintado 47.
Referee: Andy Penn (W Midlands). Attendance: 16,847.