MIDDLESBROUGH manager Tony Mowbray has admitted that Boro’s 0-0 draw at home to relegated Doncaster has cost his side a place in the Championship play-offs.
For Boro the stalemate, coupled with wins for Blackpool and Cardiff, saw them drift four points off the play-off places with two games remaining.
And if the two clubs win their games on Saturday, Boro’s evening game with second-placed Southampton could be rendered a dead rubber for Mowbray’s side.
He said: “We’ll keep pushing until the final day. There’s a four-point gap, two games to go, so we’ve got to win two football matches.That’s easier said than done as the next game is at home against a team that could clinch promotion that day, so let’s wait and see.”
Boro’s lack of cut and thrust against Rovers summed up an impotent residence on the banks of the Tees this term, and Mowbray took an analytical view of his team’s failings.
“We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s been difficult at home recently and tonight again we struggled to put the ball in the back of the net.
“It’s frustrating, disappointing, and sums us up the second half of the season.
“If you look at the points tally, we’ve picked up more points away from home and struggled to win football matches at home.
“If you look at the top half of the table, teams have generally scored 70-plus goals and we’ve scored 49.”
Doncaster might even have snatched all three points if they had been afforded the chance to score from the spot when Chris Brown was felled in the area by Seb Hines in the first half, but no penalty was given.
The Teessiders laid siege to the Gary Woods in the visiting goal in a frantic final minute, but it was not to be for Tony Mowbray’s men, who are now four points away from the play-offs.
The tricky Simon Gillett soon began to push and probe from the first minute, his clever interplay allowing James O’Connor to feed Brown, who fudged the header.
Marvin Emnes’ cut-back then freed Lukas Jutkiewicz to pick out Julio Arca lingering unmarked at the far post, the Argentinian slamming forcefully against a post.
Rovers’ high line then saved them as Jutkiewicz converted Barry Robson’s lob only to be declared offside. But Middlesbrough threatened again, O’Connor heading a Robson strike clear of danger.
Woods tipped over Jutkiewicz’s bullet header before tidying up a tamer effort from the Polish hitman as Boro continued to press.
Rovers’ early verve had long since been neutralised when referee Darren Drysdale invoked the ire of the travelling fans.
As Brown used his strong frame to break into the box, Hines’ clumsy trip sent him tumbling in front of Jason Steele, only for Drysdale to wave play on.
The rain started to fall as Doncaster looked for some consolation, Gillett giving Steele a rare feel of the ball with a snapshot from 12 yards.
Boro poured forward before the break but Jutkiewicz slipped on the wet grass when presented with a clear chance to slot past Woods.
With Shelton Martis showing signs of discomfort following the restart, Saunders handed James Husband his senior debut.
The home fans were off their feet as McDonald’s close-range header rippled the side netting when it had been easier to score.
Mowbray introduced his recent match-winner at Derby, teenage striker Curtis Main, at the expense of Robson in the 61st minute.
Adam Hammill also emerged to replace the fast-tiring Emnes and the former Barnsley winger might have hoped for a team-mate to do better with his well-worked centre.
James Coppinger blasted his free-kick over the crossbar after being impeded by Nicky Bailey but Boro were determined to score as the final 15 minutes approached.
The intention was there but the cutting edge was sorely lacking as Jutkiewicz waltzed into the box, only to smash harmlessly into the north stand, his trudge back to the centre circle echoing the Boro faithful’s frustration.
Husband displayed some attacking nous as he forced a late clearance from Justin Hoyte, but Coppinger could only clip into Steele’s gloves from the resulting corner.
Substitute Kevin Thomson flicked a header over Woods’ far post as Boro prepared for one final assault.
Hammill rattled the crossbar with a chip, Main saw his quick drive smothered and Thomson dragged across the goalmouth, but Doncaster weathered the storm to earn a first point on Teesside since 1957.