MIDDLESBROUGH // Warm weather training in the UAE may not appear ideal preparation for an afternoon at windswept Middlesbrough, but it certainly seemed to aid Portsmouth for 93 minutes. Peter Crouch's volley set them on course for victory at the Riverside until Middlesbrough salvaged a point four minutes into stoppage time, courtesy of Marlon King. He converted his first goal for the club to ensure that, while they only have one win from their last 17 games and had Matthew Bates sent off, they are not cast adrift at the foot of the table.
Despite the late equaliser, Portsmouth caretaker manager Paul Hart could take consolation from moving out of the relegation zone at the expense of Stoke on goal difference. Their seasoned professionals included five England internationals, and their greater pedigree was apparent on the counter-attack. First David Nugent met Glen Johnson's low cross with a shot Robert Huth positioned himself to block and then Jermaine Pennant's cross was met expertly by Peter Crouch, but Brad Jones saved well in the home goal.
The Australian was altogether less impressive, however, when Crouch connected with a second volley in the 30th minute. Pennant and Johnson executed a short corner, with the full-back finding Crouch, who hooked in from 18 yards. Jones, beaten at his near post, appeared culpable for the striker's first Premier League goal of 2009. A Tuncay header, nestling in the side-netting, was sufficient to persuade a section of the supporters that Middlesbrough had broken the deadlock.
Nevertheless, it constituted their closest attempt in the first half and, given their meagre return in front of goal, it was unsurprising that David James was scarcely troubled. Indeed, no side are less prolific. With three league goals in as many months, a flow has become a trickle. Middlesbrough's effort and endeavour is unquestioned. A lack of quality is telling, however, and it is understandable confidence has suffered.
Andrew Taylor with a volley and Tuncay with a header did test James, but Bates's second yellow card for diving 13 minutes seemed to have ended their hopes - until King's moment of inspiration at the end. email@example.com