Middlesbrough and Leicester start year with stalemate
Aitor Karanka’s side dominate proceedings but can’t force winner against champions
Danny Simpson challenges Alvaro Negredo during Leicester’s stalemate at Middlesbrough. Photograph: Reuters/Craig Brough
While 2016 was a year to remember for Leicester City and Middlesbrough, much work is still to be done if 2017 does not turn into an almighty dud. Neither side deserved to win this scrap of a Premier League match that will probably go down as one of the worst this season, with the goalkeepers barely having a save to make and the result not exactly helping either team’s bid to move up the table.
Perhaps it was not surprising that this was no free-flowing affair, given Boro and Leicester have scored a combined 41 league goals, a figure equalled or bettered individually by Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Both sides made five changes from their respective matches on New Year’s eve and the first-half was a fragmented one as a result. Leicester offered little width while Boro often found themselves in strong attacking positions only to be let down by their end product.
The champions held a two-point advantage over Middlesbrough before kick-off and Karanka spoke beforehand of the importance of the match because it came against a relegation rival. Leicester’s two points from their first nine away league games is the joint lowest total by defending top-flight champions but they have enjoyed a far superior record over Boro in recent times, not losing in their past 13 meetings.
Leicester started well, with Shinji Okazaki causing problems with his usual injection of energy and a persevering run from the Japan forward saw the ball at the feet of Christian Fuchs on the left-hand edge of the penalty area but the full-back dragged his shot wide.
For Boro, their best outlet was Adama Traoré who continues his season of wonderful runs and woeful crossing. On more than one occasion the Spaniard beat his man down the right before failing to deliver a telling ball but he was certainly Middlesbrough’s most dangerous proposition.
In the 18th minute Traoré went down on the edge of the area under the challenge of the admirable Robert Huth, with the referee, Robert Madley, giving nothing, before setting up his team’s best chance of the half moments later. Traoré drove to the byline and squared the ball across goal for Marten de Roon, but the midfielder could fire only over the crossbar with his first-time effort.
Both sides struggled to create clear scoring opportunities as the match wore on, although Leicester’s Andy King and Boro’s George Friend – on for the injured Antonio Barragán – both fizzed enticing balls across the box only to evade any onrushing team-mates.
Friend had at least made an impact for Karanka’s side and the full-back cut inside from the left in the 68th minute, beat two defenders before slicing wide. Leicester came close when Leonardo Ulloa headed a corner straight at Brad Guzan, but the game was descending into a low-grade affair.
Gaston Ramírez went close to a late goal, firing a low shot into the side netting after a poor headed clearance from West Morgan, but no one deserved to win this match.