Middlesbrough huffed and puffed to a goalless draw away at Udinese in their penultimate game of pre-season.
New signings Gaston Ramirez and Antonio Barragan both started the game while goalkeeper Brad Guzan made his debut after replacing Tomas Mejias at half time.
It was Ramirez who came the closest to breaking the deadlock in the 70th minute, when he rattled the cross bar with a dipping free from a central position.
That would have capped off a hardworking and honest performance from Aitor Karanka’s side, who now face Real Sociedad at the Riverside on Saturday before their Premier League opener at home to Stoke City on August 13.
Fringe players get the chance to impress
It is more than likely that a different looking Boro side will take to the field in both of those fixtures, as this was an opportunity for some of the fringe players at the club to state a claim ahead of the upcoming campaign.
Among those who impressed was defender Alex Baptiste, who was moved from centre back to left back at half time and looked solid in both positions.
The 30-year-old broke his leg this time last year and didn’t return until January, before he was then loaned out to Sheffield United.
His performance here may give Karanka food for thought, after the Boro boss openly admitted he is still looking for another centre following injuries to Daniel Ayala and Bernardo Espinosa.
Karanka also gave a start to the inexperienced Adam Jackson, who partnered Baptise in the heart of defence. The 22-year-old certainly didn’t his reputation any harm, nor did Adam Forshaw or Julian De Sart who both worked tirelessly in hot conditions as a central midfield duo.
The Boro side showed ten changes from the one which beat Aston Villa on Saturday, as George Friend was the only man to keep his place and captained the side.
It was Friend who created the first real opening of game when he released Adam Reach on the left hand side, but the latter’s cross was caught by Udinese keeper Orestis Karenzis.
Rhodes goes close early on
Jordan Rhodes has been Boro’s stand out player in pre-season, scoring five goals in five games before this outing, and he nearly registered again here.
The 26-year-old striker was given 80 minutes from the off, and nearly opened the scoring with an audacious effort from the edge of the area with the outside of his boot. However, Karenzis managed to claw the ball - which was heading for the top corner - away for a corner.
Rhodes worked hard, as he often does, but regularly found himself fighting lost causes upfront on his own. Ramirez, who was deployed in the number 10 position behind the striker, was also a lively figure in the opening exchanges, and did try to aid his teammate whenever possible.
The Uruguayan almost created the opening goal seven minutes before half time, when he surged into the opposition’s penalty area and clipped the ball to the back post for Cristhian Stuani. However, the ball was knocked behind for a corner by defender Pablo Amero.
Udinese step it up after the break
Udinese had their fair share of possession too, though it wasn’t until the second half that they really threatened the Boro goal.
By that stage Guzan had replaced Mejias and the American’s first job was to keep out a powerful header from Duvan Zapata following a Udinese corner.
The hosts played with more purpose after the break, and Guzan had to be alert to deny first Emmanuel Badu - then Ryder Matos.
Boro’s best chance of the second half came on 58 minutes when Barragan skipped past a Udinese defender on the right hand side but failed to find a fellow red shirt in the box.
Ramirez hit the bar twelve minutes later before Udinese’s Rodrigo De Paul forced Guzan into another low save at his near post.