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Frustrating, but it's still in our hands; SPORT EXTRA Follow us on Twitter @EGAZETTESPORT Anthony Vickers' big match lowdown Follow us on Twitter @EGAZETTESPORT Anthony Vickers' big match lowdown.

IT WASN'T for want of trying but a golden chance to turn the screw at the top has been squandered.

Boro beavered away, no one could deny that. They ran and chased and pressed and attacked and attacked and attacked some more and a few of the players were running on empty at the end with cream-crackered Albert Adomah out on his feet.

And Boro created more than enough golden opportunities to win two games but they couldn't convert one of them and had to settle for a draw that left a tense Teesside on tenterhooks, empty-handed and frustrated. Boro finished the day still in a good position, joint top and knowing if they win their last two games they are up.

But they started it in an even better one, with the opportunity to go into those last two fixtures two points clear and with momentum having turned the screw on title rivals Burnley and Brighton.

And while Boro played well and have now taken 20 points from eight games since the season was rebooted after the thing that didn't happen, it still felt disappointing.

Not so much for the result: sometimes you dominate and it just won't go in, it happens.

And after six home wins on the bounce a draw that leaves you joint top isn't the end of the world.

But it felt a poor return for such an emotional investment, with a massive crowd and such high stakes and with the club being so close to the big prize after such a long time in the purgatory of the Championship.

After all, these are times of heightened emotions and everything is magni-fied in intensity. Every game is draining.

The match had started on a powerful wave of passion and positivity with a huge sonic tsunami and an eye-catching pre-match South Stand organised display by the Red Faction, picking out the MFC 1875 in red and white flags.

And the other end of the ground the big surfer was unveiled too.

With the striking colour and the home fans booming out in stereo if felt like a cup semi-final.

Only the meagre away following and the segregation stopped the crowd being close to a sell-out with fans being seated under the big screen for the first time since the ground reshuffle two years ago.

And it felt like it. After the roar on kick-off the aural assault rarely dropped off in the first half and with every attack the peaks of volume were probably illegal under health and safety legislation.

At the half-way point, despite the game somehow still being a stalemate, most supporters were still up-beat and the concourse consensus was that the opener was inevitable and after that it would be a romp and Boro would be back on the summit.

Boro were bossing the game. They were scything through. Albert was on fire and the Tractor Boys' defence looked like they were pulling ploughs as they tried to catch him while some sublime touches from Gaston Ramirez were ripping holes at the back.

At the break, Boro were well on top. Jordan Rhodes had been a whisker away with a one-on-one that the keeper got a hand too. Stewart Downing had a stinging shot saved.

Albert was running riot on the right - and occasionally on the left too - and had Rhodes been halfan-inch taller his header would have flown in.

A breakthrough was only a matter of time. Surely.

Soon after the restart there was a renewed roar from the crowd as news spread that Charlton had somehow scored a sarcastic goal to level against Brighton. The Gods of Football were with us.

But that upsurge of optimism was quickly quashed as the Seagulls hit back, another Boro chance went begging and then suddenly Ipswich were on the attack.

The nerves had set in.

Faces were drawn. Voices had gone up an octave.

And as Boro committed men forward, Ipswich started to make quick breaks forward that forced some scrappy defending. The fears went viral.

It had "sucker punch" written all over it. Someone on Twitter raised the spectre of Leicester at Ayresome Park back in 1988, when victory would have sealed promotion but defeat consigned Bruce Rioch's side to the play-offs. With 10 minutes to go with Boro wading through porridge outside the penalty box, the nerve-shredding was almost complete: fans were reduced to yelps and frantic gestures at the pitch. And swearing. There was a lot of swearing.

The late assault brought a stabbed shot against the post that bounced back into the arms of the keeper - a "just not our day" signal if there has been one.

There were fractional misses, crosses going begging, headers squirting across the face of goal or wide... it was torture.

And there was no lastgasp goal to squeeze to victory this time to keep that particular narrative going.

The whistle brought a sigh. Not at the display. That was solid and spirited if ultimately falling short.

It was a sigh at a moment of opportunity and precious momentum slipping through our fingers.

Victory would have taken Boro two points clear again, would have matched Burnley and Brighton's results over the weekend.

It would have piled the pressure back on our promotion peers and maintained the advantage. And it would have also brought breathing space, left a little wriggle room going to Birmingham. The frustrating draw has left an ever tighter three way tie at the top and raised the prospect of an almost unbearably tense last day winner-takesall Riverside shoot-out against Brighton.

And so the emotionallydraining incarceration inside this bubble, the relentless promotion pressure, the narcotic cocktail of excitement, adrenaline, fear and nausea in equal measure, goes on.

It must be weeks now, months even, since collective heart rates have dropped below the in-thered rev rate of a boy racer's souped-up engine.

It must be weeks now, months even, since anyone could look at the league table or a fixture list without having an icy hand of fear grip their hearts and beads of perspiration forming.

of perspiration forming.

This torture has been dragged out beyond the limits of endurance for something that is supposed to be fun, a mere entertainment. A game. But this has moved way beyond a game. It is painfully real. It is a constant, inescapable internal struggle for sanity as time runs out and the stakes rise.

This torture has been dragged out beyond the limits of endurance for something that is supposed to be fun, a mere entertainment. A game. But this has moved way beyond a game. It is painfully real. It is a constant, inescapable internal struggle for sanity as time runs out and the stakes rise.

Soon the pressure will tell and victims will fall by the wayside: hearts will explode. There will be pock-marks of flame in the crowd as the volatile spontaneously combust. Battle scarred Boro fans are rapidly developing the thousand yard stare of Vietnam vets.

Soon the pressure will tell and victims will fall by the wayside: hearts will explode. There will be pock-marks of flame in the crowd as the volatile spontaneously combust. Battle scarred Boro fans are rapidly developing the thousand yard stare of Vietnam vets.

And yet... it IS still in our hands. Two games: two wins and we're up.

And yet... it IS still in our hands. Two games: two wins and we're up.

There are several possible permutations that if we worked them out would look like the blackboard in Stephen Hawking's office.

There are several possible permutations that if we worked them out would look like the blackboard in Stephen Hawking's office.

But the bottom line is two wins. We can't look beyond that just yet. It is bad enough dealing with that.

But the bottom line is two wins. We can't look beyond that just yet. It is bad enough dealing with that.

This one is going to the wire.

This one is going to the wire.

We may not all get out of this in one piece.

We may not all get out of this in one piece.

CAPTION(S):

| Cristhian Stuani in goes for a header in the late stages of the match, left. Right, Albert Adomah heads just wide in the first half | Cristhian Stuani in goes for a header in the late stages of the match, left. Right, Albert Adomah heads just wide in the first half

| Gaston Ramirez slides in to intercept an Ipswich pass

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Apr 25, 2016
Words:1416
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