Miller snatches point for Sunderland

Middlesbrough 2 Sunderland 2

Middlesbrough 2 Sunderland 2

Liam Miller came off the bench to hand Sunderland a hard-fought derby point with a last-minute strike in a fiercely contested encounter.

The former Celtic midfielder smashed a left-foot volley past Mark Schwarzer to deny Gareth Southgate's men a victory they thought was in the bag after local boy Stewart Downing had dispatched a 67th-minute thunderbolt past Craig Gordon.

Black Cats boss Roy Keane, celebrating 50 games in charge at the Stadium of Light, saw his side get off to the perfect start when Grant Leadbitter capitalised on an error by former Black Cat Julio Arca to start and finish an attack which produced the game's opening goal with less than two minutes gone.

Boro were back on level terms when Arca made amends with a 14th-minute header to drag his side back into it, and Downing's goal should have been enough to win it.

But as chances went begging with the impressive Gary O'Neil, making his first start for the club, unable to take any of a series of opportunities which came his way, the home side were made to pay in front of a crowd of 30,675.

Derby days have proved eventful for Arca in recent years - he scored for Sunderland at Boro two seasons ago and unwittingly ended the career of Newcastle skipper Alan Shearer in a 4-1 home defeat for the Black Cats during the same campaign, while his strike against the Magpies last month clinched a 2-2 draw on Teesside.

However, what transpired at the Riverside Stadium this afternoon was out of the ordinary even by his standards.

The 26-year-old Argentinian was barely into his stride when he gifted the ball to Leadbitter on halfway and looked on in horror as the Wearsiders made the most of the opportunity.

Leadbitter raced away before picking out Michael Chopra on the left, and then benefited from a slice of good fortune when the striker's shot hit him and fell perfectly for him to drive a left-foot effort past the stranded Schwarzer.

There were just 75 seconds on the clock when the ball hit the back of the net, but Boro's response was immediate as Arca atoned for his error within 12 minutes.

Home debutant O'Neil, a £5m deadline day signing from Portsmouth, sent in a teasing right-wing cross which the South American met with perfect timing at the far post to thump a downward header into the net despite the best efforts of Craig Gordon.

A pulsating encounter maintained its pace for much of an intense 45 minutes which fully tested Southgate's resources.

Striker Tuncay Sanli, who replaced the injured Jeremie Aliadiere in the starting line-up, limped off with just 10 minutes gone, and was followed within 15 minutes by the unfortunate Arca, who was carried off with what looked like a serious knee injury.

With Dong-Gook Lee and George Boateng having already joined the fray, Lee Cattermole was stripped and ready to come on with five minutes of the first half still to play with Mido clutching his hamstring, but the Egyptian declined to leave the field.

In the meantime, O'Neil had tested Gordon with a smartly-struck shot from distance and should have done better on 37 minutes when he blasted a volley high over after Downing's effort had been deflected to him.

However, he and his team-mates left the field at the break still wondering how Danny Higginbotham had escaped without conceding a penalty when Luke Young's ball into the box had hit his hand.

Boro started the second half the brighter, and went agonisingly close to taking the lead on 50 minutes when Lee accepted Mido's knockdown and curled a right-foot shot inches wide of the far post with Gordon beaten.

The visitors rallied and after seeing Jonathan Woodgate survive a penalty shout for handball, Ross Wallace blasted a cross the face of goal from Leadbitter's 55th-minute cross.

But they fell behind with 23 minutes remaining when Downing took aim from 25 yards and blasted a stunning right-foot shot past Gordon, who was undone by the swerve the England midfielder imparted on the ball.

The visitors tried desperately to work their way back into the game, although Leadbitter and Greg Halford both went well wide from distance as their challenge looked to have petered out.

Indeed, both O'Neil and Fabio Rochemback could have added to Keane's woes as time ran down.

But Miller had not given up hope and he muscled his way into the box a minute from time to hammered a left-foot drive past Schwarzer.

Cattermole fired inches wide in injury time, but two points had slipped away.

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