MIDDLESBROUGH go into the Sky Bet Championship’s third international break outside the automatic promotion places – but when they return they will have genuine hopes of changing that.
Boro boss Aitor Karanka is confident Boro are there to stay in the promotion race.
Karanka declared himself satisfied with the result against in-form Bournemouth, which leaves his side just a point adrift of new leaders Derby and level with Eddie Howe’s side.
Boro sit behind the Cherries on goal difference in third.
Karanka said: “I am very happy because it was a very difficult game. You could feel the excited atmosphere.
“I think the players were a little anxious and I can understand that. It’s a new situation for us and we played against one of the best teams in the league.
“It is no coincidence that they are where they are so I am very happy. I am very pleased because it’s just one year since I arrived.
“One year ago, we were eight points below the play-offs and now we are four points ahead of seventh.
“We know it will be difficult to keep this position but if we work in the same way, we will get to our objective.”
This top-of-the-table clash proved a damp squib as they played out a 0-0 draw in the Sky Bet Championship on Saturday.
A season-best crowd of 22,930 turned out at the Riverside for the day’s most eye-catching second-tier contest.
Yet those in attendance will have left wondering what might have been as both teams’ defences had the decisive say.
Anticipation was high for the meeting of first versus second, although each side dropped a place ahead of kick-off after Derby rose to the summit with a 5-0 win over Wolves in the early game.
Goals were not forthcoming in an entertaining opening period, with the best effort coming when Adam Reach rattled the crossbar.
A game that had promised so much petered out during a drab second half to ensure Bournemouth ended the day second, a place ahead of their opponents on goal difference.
The teams looked evenly matched during a calm opening period, with both probing cautiously.
It was Boro who created the first opening when Lee Tomlin cleverly jinked his way past two defenders, only to see a tame left-footed effort saved by Artur Boruc.
Bournemouth responded impressively, with Matt Ritchie forcing Dimi Konstantopoulos to save a clever bicycle kick.
The game was suddenly taking on an end-to-end nature, illustrated by Reach’s fizzing 25-yarder striking the woodwork.
Tomlin continued to look the biggest threat and, having been afforded too much space once more, drove to the edge of the box before seeing a low effort turned around the post by Boruc.
Middlesbrough endured a couple of scares thereafter, Konstantopoulos producing a stunning fingertip save to turn over Ritchie’s effort before Charlie Daniels’ effort deflected narrowly over the crossbar.
Bournemouth ended the half in the ascendancy and almost went in ahead, Harry Arter’s stunning volley flying inches over the bar.
The break appeared to sap the energy from the encounter as both sides struggled for fluency early in the second half.
But Bournemouth still spurned a golden opportunity when Callum Wilson volleyed over on the stretch after the ball had deflected into his path.
That was one of the few sparks, however, as the game settled into a grim rhythm.
The visitors were looking the likelier team to end the stalemate, with Marc Pugh’s fizzing ball across the six-yard box just evading Wilson.
Not surprisingly, Middlesbrough pressed on the accelerator as the half wore on – although Bournemouth’s back four were proving a tough nut to crack.
They did not really threaten to penetrate it, either, with a Reach effort from distance that flew over their only real strike at goal in the closing stages.