Middlesbrough 0 Fulham 0
Former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer dealt his old club’s survival hopes a major blow with a superb save to deny Tuncay Sanli a priceless winner.
Schwarzer, who made 446 appearances in more than 11 years at the Riverside Stadium, kept out the Turkey international’s goalbound 47th-minute header as Fulham denied the relegation-haunted Teessiders a second successive Barclays Premier League win.
Tuncay’s effort represented the best of the chances Boro created on a day when the Londoners resisted stubbornly.
Indeed, they perhaps enjoyed the two best opportunities of the game before the break with Bobby Zamora missing from close range and Andrew Johnson hitting a post.
A draw was probably just about fair, although for Boro, who had appeals for a 79th-minute penalty for handball by Dickson Etuhu waved away, a point was simply not enough.
They face a trip to Arsenal next weekend and then host Manchester United knowing defeat in both could prove fatal.
Having given themselves hope after most pundits had written them off with last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Hull, a rare air of optimism has surrounded the Boro camp this week, and a renewed confidence was very much in evidence as they set about securing a repeat performance.
For much of the first half, manager Gareth Southgate will have been delighted with what he saw as his players took the game to Fulham and threatened on several occasions to get their noses in front.
With defender-turned-central midfielder Matthew Bates snapping into challenges and Afonso Alves looking more like the £12.7million striker the club invested in, there was much about which to be positive.
But for the excellent Aaron Hughes, whose heroics will not have gone unappreciated by former club Newcastle, Boro might well have gone in at half-time in front.
The Northern Ireland international produced fine blocks to deny first Stewart Downing and then Alves, and was generally in commanding form at the back as he and Brede Hangeland just about managed to keep Boro at bay.
In truth, Schwarzer had only one real save to make, and that, from Jeremie Aliadiere’s 18th-minute effort, did not over-extend him.
However, for all the home side enjoyed the better of the opening 45 minutes, it was Fulham, seeking a third successive away win, who created the best two chances of the first half, and they were unfortunate not to take the lead on both occasions.
Just how Zamora failed to get a touch on Simon Davies’ 29th-minute cross as it sped across goal is something he will be asking himself for some time, although strike-partner Johnson was even more unfortunate 11 minutes before the break.
The former Everton frontman turned up wide on the left before cutting inside David Wheater and curling a right-foot shot, with the help of a slight deflectoon off the defender, around keeper Brad Jones.
But to his horror, the ball crashed against the foot of the post and ran across the empty goal before being hacked away, and Boro had survived a major scare.
The home side’s response was swift as they emerged after the break with even greater purpose.
They went agonisingly close to the opening goal within two minutes when Tuncay arrived perfectly on cue to power a header towards goal.
However, Schwarzer threw himself to his right to claw the ball away at the last moment and deny his former employers the lead.
The Australian was at it again three minutes later to tip Downing’s rising drive over the bar with the Teessiders once again dominating.
Schwarzer was then called upon to turn away Tony McMahon’s drilled 53rd-minute cross with Boro firmly in the ascendancy.
But as they committed men to the search for a winning goal, the home side were leaving space for the visitors, and they sensed an opportunity to strike on the counter.
Worringly for Southgate, his players appeared to be running out of ideas and were becoming increasingly wasteful in possession with the anxiety of the home supporters growing by the minute.
They were appealing, more in hope than expectation, for a penalty with 11 minutes remaining after Downing’s shot ploughed into Etuhu, but Clint Dempsey might have denied them even a point with an 83rd-minute effort which dropped just wide.
Zamora passed up a golden opportunity to win it in the final minute of normal time, but the home side were unable to take advantage.