Boro blocked by Blades
Middlesbrough's bid to make an instant return to the Premier League got off to an inauspicious start as they were held to a goalless draw by Sheffield United in the opening game of the new season. Gareth Southgate's revamped side were unable to find their way past last season's play-off final losers in front of a healthy crowd of close to 24,000 at the Riverside, as the north-east club kicked off their first season outside the top flight for 11 years. Short of a handful of efforts from the edge of the area, neither side were able to trouble the other too much as the game eventually petered out into something that resembled another pre-season friendly. With Turkey striker Tuncay Sanli, who is expected to leave before the transfer window shuts at the end of the month, left out through illness, Southgate handed debuts to three players in his starting line-up, with opposite number Kevin Blackwell naming four in his. The new-boys were the first to take centre stage too, with home keeper Danny Coyne, a summer signing from Tranmere, displaying excellent reactions to block a second minute volley from Blackburn loanee Keith Treacy. Stephen Quinn then saw a scuffed effort creep narrowly wide as United's direct style of play caused Boro some early problems, before winger Mark Yeates registered their first attempt on goal with a dipping strike that Mark Bunn did well to touch around the post. Coyne was soon called into action again to fend away a rising drive from Quinn from the corner of the box following a knock down from Darius Henderson, while captain Robert Huth did well to clear from under his own bar as the Blades continued to probe for an opening. Didier Digard's poor run with injuries since he joined Boro continued as he limped off moments before the break with a groin strain to be replaced by Gary O'Neil, while Boro had a penalty appeal waved away by referee Lee Mason after the restart when Adam Johnson went down in the area. With neither side able to create a genuine chance following the interval, both managers opted to introduce their new strikers, with Boro bringing on Leroy Lita who joined them on Thursday and United replacing Brian Howard with Ched Evans. But neither were able to make an impact as defences remained on top, with Boro's David Wheater and United's Matt Kilgallon, both thought to be targets of a number of Premier League clubs, particularly impressive. Despite the industry of Yeates, who was comfortably his side's best player, Boro were unable to make anything out of their late possession as the game wound down towards a tame finish.
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