Ten-man Boro hold out for a draw

Displaying admirable concern for their clientele, Middlesbrough are poised to start selling supporters low fat, low salt, health snacks at the Riverside Stadium's fast food kiosks.

Judging from this showing though, anyone would have guessed both teams had lunched on something stodgy, sugary and bursting with nasty 'e-number' additives.

Although increasingly fractious - Boro's Ugo Ehiogu was sent off 15 minutes from time and there were also five bookings - it was also a surprisingly sluggish affair, Rafa Benitez's European Champions turning up in a disappointingly cautious mood, matched by an equal lack of attacking ambition from Steve McClaren's men.

Stewart Downing has doubled his wages to around £20,000 a week with the signing of a new contract this summer but, for much of the evening, Boro's left winger looked half the player he proved last season.

Such unusual lack of involvement was partly down to a lack of service and largely down to the presence of Steve Finnan at right back for Liverpool, one of the few full-backs who seemed capable of subduing Downing last season.

Bolo Zenden never appeared peripheral when these team's met last term, his sparkling performances helping to facilitate the Dutchman's summer switch from Teesside to Merseyside.

Roundly booed here, Zenden was not at his best but still did enough to make Michael Reiziger, his minder, look distinctly ordinary.

Moreover, he helped ensure that, the odd sublime touch aside, Gaizka Mendieta was persistently thwarted on his return to first-team combat after almost a year out recovering from a career threatening knee injury.

In mitigation, Mendieta, - one of whose clever backheels might have prompted a goal from Ehiogu - suffered largely because George Boateng and Ray Parlour, McClaren's central midfielders, regularly found themselves overrun by Liverpool's three-man engine room, a department in which Xabi Alonso found himself flanked by not just Steven Gerrard but the impressive, and physically imposing Mali international and Premiership debutant Momo Sissoko.

The downside of such containment was that Fernando Morientes cut a horribly isolated figure in the visiting attack and, despite enjoying a deceptively bright opening 15 minutes, Liverpool conjured just one first half chance, when Gerrard's shot ballooned over the bar.

With Ehiogu's aforementioned left foot effort - capably tipped over the bar by Jose Reina, Liverpool's under-employed new keeper - representing Boro's sole pre-interval opening, the teams sipped their half-time tea with bookings outnumbering scoring opportunities by 4-2 in an encounter where the edge seemed confined to midfield tackles rather than penalty area action.

Morientes could at least derive a little consolation from the knowledge that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Yakubu, McClaren's £7million summer buy from Portsmouth whose presence restricted Mark Viduka to the bench, were toiling to similarly scant effect.

Twelve minutes into an equally barren second half, Benitez decided it was time to change to 4-4-2, a switch effected by introducing Djibril Cisse at Garcia's expense and the reputedly Aston Villa-bound Milan Baros in Morientes's stead.

Not to be outdone, McClaren upped his striker quotient to three, Szilard Nemeth and Viduka joining Yakubu, with Mendieta then Hasselbaink withdrawn. With Cisse finally stretching Gareth Southgate and Viduka extending Jamie Carragher, centre halves were belatedly called to arms.

Unfortunately Ehiogu applied himself somewhat too vigorously to the task, his scything tackle from behind on Gerrard as the England midfielder was clean through and about to accelerate into the penalty area inevitably earning him a straight red card.

Gerrard was subsequently furious with himself when Mark Schwarzer dived smartly to divert his header but Liverpool did not deserve to be rewarded for such a modest game plan.

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