Leicester 0 Middlesbrough 0
Leicester 0 Middlesbrough 0 AT the start of May, Brad Jones made what now looks certain to be his final league appearance for Middlesbrough at the Walkers Stadium. Three months on, and teenage goalkeeper Jason Steele made his first league start as the Teessiders returned to the home of Leicester City. One chapter is closing, another is ready to begin. And as Jones prepares to complete a £2.5m move to Liverpool later this week, it appears the Australian will leave Boro's goalkeeping duties in a pair of very safe hands. Jason's been brilliant, said centre-half David Wheater, after Steele followed up an eye-catching performance in Tuesday's Carling Cup win at Chesterfield with an equally impressive display as Boro claimed their first point of the Championship campaign. When Stephen Pears was here (as goalkeeping coach), I was always asking him whether Jason could be our number one, and he was always saying, Definitely'. I think he's come into the side and shown that. It's unusual for a goalkeeper to be playing at that age, but he's proved he can handle it. I was only 19 when I came into the side as well, and people were telling me that's very young for a centrehalf. But if you're a good enough player, you can cope. You tend to see goalkeepers in the their 30s, but Jason's come in at a much younger age and been fantastic. It's not a surprise though. We've seen him at the training ground as a young lad, and I don't think anyone who's seen him develop is the least bit surprised at what he's done. Nevertheless, Gordon Strachan took a major risk by selecting Steele ahead of the vastly experienced Danny Coyne at the weekend, and the gamble paid off as the Newton Aycliffe-born 19-yearold produced two fine stops to keep the scoresheet blank. Steele turned over DJ Campbell's first-half free-kick as it threatened to creep under the crossbar, and made an equally impressive save to keep out a fierce 20-yard drive from former Northern League striker Steve Howard. It had been expected that Jones' departure would force Gordon Strachan to sign a tried-and-tested replacement, with Crystal Palace's Julian Speroni having emerged as his preferred choice. However, Steele's strong showings over the last six days might well have persuaded the Boro boss to spend his money elsewhere. This was Jason's day rather than Brad's, so let's talk about that, said Strachan, after he was asked to comment on the ongoing saga surrounding Jones. The best tribute you can pay him is that I don't think Leicester's coaches or the Leicester crowd realised just how young he is. Most people looking at our team would have focused on (Kris) Boyd and (Scott) Mc- Donald and people like that and forgot about the goalie. I don't think anyone who saw his performance would have thought that was a young boy in goal. He looked like a man in there and that's good. Steele's impressive showing capped a fine all-round defensive display that enabled Boro to secure their first clean sheet of the season. Andy King rattled the crossbar with an early header, and an offside flag came to the visitors' assistance when the same player appeared to be level with the last defender as he latched on to Campbell's through ball, but on the whole, Leicester were unable to convert their plentiful possession into clear-cut chances. Wheater deserves much of the credit for that, and after a somewhat inconsistent first season in the Championship, the 23-year-old appears to have rediscovered the fine form he displayed in the Premier League. Stephen McManus was equally effective alongside him and, switched to a more natural position at right-back, Matthew Bates continued his fine start to the campaign. The result was the kind of dogged draw that was largely lacking last season. As Wheater concurred, this was the kind of game Boro would have lost 1-0 in the recent past. Maybe last season, we would have conceded late on, but I think we're a lot stronger and fitter now, he said. We already feel more confident of seeing a game out than we did last season. It was a succession of long balls all game and we just had to keep on heading it. I think me and Mick (McManus) like that though that's our sort of game. The flip side, however, is that Boro carried only a limited threat going forward. Ironically, Wheater wasted the best opening, heading Barry Robson's first-half corner wide, but a midfield unit comprising Robson, Kevin Thomson, Nicky Bailey and Gary O'Neil for much of the second half was both predictable and one-paced. Strachan could do with adding some natural width and pace, either through the inclusion of Tarmo Kink or Andy Halliday Luke Williams, while undoubtedly possessing potential, is not yet robust enough for an extended run at this level or the purchase of an Andy Driver or a Craig Conway. The alternative is that, while a resolute Boro might be harder to beat, winning games could prove something of a problem. Machfacts Bookings: Bates (32, foul), McManus (44, foul), Howard (46, foul), O'Neil (68, foul), Moreno (77, dissent) Referee: Mike Jones (Chester) - Angered Boro by playing on when Thomson was injured, but was generally effective 6 Attendance: 21,587 Entertainment: LEICESTER (4-4-2): Weale 6; Neilson 6 (Lamey 83), Moreno 7, HOBBS 8, Berner 6; Wellens 5, King 6 (Gallagher 74), Oakley 5, Dyer 6; Howard 5, Campbell 7 (Fryatt 83). Subs (not used): Logan (gk), Kennedy, Morrison, N'Guessan. MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): 7 Steele: Produced excellent saves to deny Campbell and Howard and was not the least bit overawed 7 Bates: Maintained his fine start to the season with another strong showing on the right-hand side 8 WHEATER: Won everything that came his way in the air and made a number of impressive blocks 7 McManus: Confirmed why Strachan was so keen to resign him with a spirited and committed display 6Hoyte: Solid enough defensively, but struggled to get forward down the lefthand side 5 L Williams: Came close after an eye-catching dribble, but was brushed off the ball too easily 6 Thomson: Passed the ball the best of Boro's midfielders but left the field on a stretcher late on 6 Robson: Always involved in the central area and deprived Leicester's midfielders of space and time 5 Bailey: High on work rate and endeavour slightly lower on attacking invention and guile 6 McDonald: Prepared to drop deep in an attempt to influence the game and tested Weale late on 5 Boyd: Anonymous for large periods, although a general lack of service didn't help Subs: O'Neil (for L Williams, 46): Added more solidity in the second half and fired in a dangerous low free-kick 6 Lita (for Thomson, 71) Kink (for Boyd, 85) (not used): Coyne (gk), Hines, Arca, Miller. MAN OF THE MATCH DAVID Wheater back to something approaching his best and is clearly relishing the resumption of his relationship with Stephen McManus.
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