MIDDLESBROUGH 0-0 LIVERPOOL
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard waged a one-man war on 10-man Middlesbrough but left Teesside with only a point to show for his efforts as the European champions were held.
On another day, the England midfielder might have claimed a hat-trick, but a combination of poor finishing, solid goalkeeping and bad luck denied him the decisive goal his individual display deserved.
Gerrard could have won it as early as the 22nd minute, but fired over the bar from from close range, and he then saw a looping header drop onto the roof of the net with keeper Mark Schwarzer stranded after Ugo Ehiogu had been dismissed.
And with only seconds of the 90 minutes remaining, he powered a header across the face of goal with Steve McClaren's men wilting under the strain.
The Merseysiders always looked the more likely winners despite under-achieving before the break, but with Gerrard upping the tempo and substitute Djibril Cisse adding fresh impetus, just how Boro survived was a mystery.
McClaren will feel it was a point well earned, but opposite number Rafael Benitez headed back across the Pennines wondering how he was doing so without all three.
Boro chairman Steve Gibson and veteran defender Colin Cooper officially unveiled the restored Ayresome Park gates outside the Riverside Stadium shortly before kick-off, although it seemed they had erected them in front of Schwarzer's goal as the home side rode their luck to claim a point which was greeted by the bulk of a crowd of 31,908 with delirious celebrations.
Nine years ago, an expensively acquired Middlesbrough striker marked his Premiership debut at the Riverside Stadium with a hat-trick in the opening day fixture against Liverpool.
If Aiyegbeni Yakubu, a £7.5million signing from Portsmouth, had hopes of emulating Fabrizio Ravanelli's feat, he showed few signs of doing so in a tepid first half.
Schwarzer had one regulation save to make from former team-mate Bolo Zenden and opposite number Jose Reina made his own difficulties by flapping at a Stewart Downing corner and allowing Ehiogu to send a deflected follow-up just wide.
Had Gerrard not wasted the best move of the opening 45 minutes when he fired high over from close range after Fernando Morientes had perfectly headed down Xabi Alonso's cross, the European champions would have been well on their way.
Boro looked rusty as they struggled to get Yakubu into the game with only Downing looking likely to contribute any meaningful supply, and strike-partner Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's growing frustration was, as ever, evident.
Zenden was inevitably booed at every opportunity from the moment he left the team coach but his invention was clearly missing from a Boro side which included Gaizka Mendieta for the first time since October last year through injury.
McClaren's assertion that he still needs two creative midfielders - Sporting Lisbon's Roudolphe Douala and Fabio Rochemback remain in the frame - was eloquently illustrated, but in truth, despite Gerrard's probing, there was little more on offer from the visitors.
Whether it was the sight of Cisse, Milan Baros and John Arne Riise warming up on the sideline as the second half got underway which spurred Liverpool on, they set about their task after the break with some relish.
Morientes tested Schwarzer with a speculative effort, but it was Gerrard who led the fight, sending two shots, the second of them a well-executed long-range volley, wide and forcing the Australian to pull off a smart save.
Cisse eventually arrived as a replacement for Luis Garcia with 58 minutes gone. Mohamed Sissoko latched onto a weak Ehiogu header and drilled a 63rd-minute shot wide, but both managers moved to sharpen up their attack after 67 minutes with Baros and Mark Viduka replacing Morientes and Hasselbaink respectively.
Cisse was just unable to climb high enough to meet Sami Hyypia's header back across goal after 71 minutes and Viduka headed straight at Reina from a Downing corner two minutes later, but the balance of the game was about to change again.
Ehiogu was caught flat-footed when Baros played the ball in behind him to Gerrard after 74 minutes, and when he tripped the midfielder, referee Mark Halsey had little option but to dismiss him.
Nemeth bravely blocked Cisse's shot from the resulting free-kick, but when Jamie Carragher fed the ball into the box, Gerrard beat the advancing Schwarzer to it but headed onto the roof of the empty net.
The Reds bombarded their hosts as the clock ran down, but despite mounting a sustained assault, could not find the breakthrough with Gerrard powering a header across the face of goal in the final minute of normal time.
Middlesbrough Schwarzer, Reiziger, Southgate, Ehiogu, Queudrue, Mendieta (Nemeth 65), Parlour, Boateng, Downing, Yakubu (Bates 75), Hasselbaink (Viduka 67).
Subs Not Used: Doriva, Jones.
Sent Off: Ehiogu (74).
Booked: Parlour, Queudrue.
Liverpool Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock, Luis Garcia (Cisse 57), Sissoko, Gerrard, Alonso, Zenden, Morientes (Baros 67).
Subs Not Used: Riise, Carson, Whitbread.
Booked: Alonso, Luis Garcia, Sissoko.
Ref: M Halsey (Lancashire).
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|Match Report filed: 15 August 2005|