Middlesbrough aimlessly slid further into the relegation mire as they held on meekly for a goalless draw away at Swansea. Boro repelled wave upon wave of Swansea pressure but were unable to build on that foundation with any form of attacking fervour. Having spent the vast majority of the final quarter of the game without the ball, Rudy Gestede looked set to seal the points for the visitors but his header flashed wide. A glaring miss, after so much defensive work, is Boro's season in microcosm.
Defensive solidity was back on the agenda, largely thanks to the lionhearted Ben Gibson, who followed his England call-up with a fantastic performance. Manager Steve Agnew dropped Grand Leadbitter to the bench and pushed Stewart Downing further up the pitch into the No. 10 position, but without reward. Given Gestede's massive miss, the only slight positive to take is that Boro remain in the survival struggle. There's a game at Hull on Wednesday followed by a home game against Burnley next weekend, but time looks to be running out.
It's nothing new to write about Boro's struggles in front of goal -- they now have scored 20 goals in 29 league games -- and feels almost beyond parody how poor they are at creating opportunities. Agnew espoused an attacking solution when he took over from Aitor Karanka but, while it is only two games into his tenure, the mindset does not look to have shifted. This was a massive missed opportunity; Swansea were without key striker Fernando Llorente and coming off damaging defeats, yet it was Boro who were pinned back for a large portion of the match. Their rare flashes of attack, as ever, came to the sum of zero. Relegation looks certain.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Agnew had the benefit of the international break work with the Boro squad and instill his methods, which were talked up in the media as being more focused toward creating scoring chances. Precious little of that was on display, yet things would have been different had Gestede nodded toward the far post rather than fluffing his lines and going for a glanced header toward the top corner. Even had he registered, though, it may well have merely served to paper over the cracks of what was another well-below-par performance.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Victor Valdes, 7 -- Acquitted himself well when called upon, most notably to deny Tom Carroll and Glyfi Sigurdsson. Opted to punch away when possible from set pieces with a mixed success rate, but marshalled those in front of him well.
DF Antonio Barragan, 4 -- Not helped defensively by Adama Traore but Barragan was carved apart by Martin Olsson and others on Swansea's left flank and endured a torrid time. Guilty of committing a simply unforgivable foul throw, which surrendered possession late on during a very rare Boro attack during a must-win game.
DF Bernardo Espinosa, 4 -- Agnew's higher defensive line has really exposed Espinosa's distinct lack of pace as Swansea were able to ghost past him at will. Gave away cheap and unnecessary fouls in dangerous areas.
DF Ben Gibson, 8 -- Practically the only shining light in a dreadful season for his hometown club, Gibson again put on a composed showing which will have only served him well with reported suitors from Chelsea, Manchester City and others looking on with interest.
DF Fabio, 6 -- Gave his all in a committed display, as usual, before having to make way after suffering a head injury midway through the second half.
MF Marten de Roon, 5 -- Got about the pitch, but is probably the most obvious relic from Karanka's reign of negative football. Seems terrified to move forward with the ball and this was typified by one woeful delivery straight to Lukasz Fabianski.
MF Adam Clayton, 6 -- Beavered away in the centre of the park and tried to get his side moving positively when the opportunity arose, but was under pressure throughout the majority of the match.
MF Stewart Downing, 5 -- Involved during a bright opening exchange before fading and wasting some set-piece opportunities with substandard deliveries. Forced into a left-back position after Fabio was brought off.
MF Adama Traore, 6 -- As expected, he was poor defensively but did very well surging past players, creating space and drawing useful fouls for his side. Saw a snapshot from wide drift agonisingly past the far post.
MF Gaston Ramirez, 5 -- Always on the periphery and departed after 39 minutes due to injury.
FW Alvaro Negredo, 6 -- Fell foul of a horrible first touch after being played through by Traore, then spent the second half without the ball before playing a sumptuous cross to Gestede. The header, though, went wide and Boro's hopes passed by.
FW Rudy Gestede, 6 -- Clearly committed, he threw himself into several tasty tackles after coming on, but unfortunately will not be sleeping easily due to wasting Boro's chance of the season.
MF Adam Forshaw, 6 -- On for Fabio in the second half, Forshaw was busy and tried to keep Boro ticking over when he could.