New signings Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez played 75 minutes together as Middlesbrough’s final pre-season friendly ended in a goalless draw with Real Sociedad.
Ramirez, who was on loan at Boro last season, was the standout player in his favoured number 10 position and looked the most likely to break the deadlock on a warm and humid afternoon at the Riverside.
The lively Uruguayan wasn’t afraid to try his luck at goal and linked up well with Negredo in Boro’s forward line.
That will have pleased manager Aitor Karanka, and despite watching his side fail to score for the second game in succession, there were still positives - not least the fact that his side once again appeared well-organised and disciplined from back to front.
Few chances for either side
A back four of Emilio Nsue, Antonio Barragan, Ben Gibson and George Friend played the full ninety minutes and will now be expected to line-up in Boro’s Premier League opener at home to Stoke next weekend.
Barragan, who was signed as a right back, filled in at centre half, where Boro are short of numbers due to the injuries picked up by Daniel Ayala and Bernardo Espinosa. In an unaccustomed position, the Spaniard performed admirably - even if he wasn’t asked too many questions.
Overall it was a game of few clear cut chances where both side’s hard work and graft cancelled the other out. That may still slight concern Karanka, and the Spaniard will know that his side still need to sharpen up in the attacking third of the pitch.
Adam Clayton and Marten De Roon will also be expected to start in Boro’s midfield next weekend, and the pair made plenty of stern challenges in a competitive first half.
The first chance fell to the visitors when they won a free kick on the edge of Boro’s penalty area but Golazo de Oyarzábal blazed the ball into the stands.
Ramirez pulls the strings
Boro responded with a neat move on 13 minutes, when Negredo held the ball up well and rolled it into the path of Viktor Fischer. The Danish winger then set up Ramirez who fizzed an effort narrowly over the bar.
Ten minutes later Ramirez forced Sociedad goalkeeper Antonio Ramirez to punch the ball to safety, when the Uruguayan playmaker hit the target with a curling free kick from the left.
Boro had played some pleasing football in the final third with Stewart Downing, Fischer, Clayton and De Roon all linking up with the front two. Even so, Sociedad started to impose themselves on the game as the half wore on and by half time they were in the ascendency.
Former Southampton striker Juanmi, now at Sociedad, was sent though on goal after 40 minutes, when he latched onto a lofted pass over the Boro defence. He subsequently rolled the ball past Boro keeper Victor Valdes before Friend hooked the ball to safety.
Juanmi threatened again two minutes later when he knocked a low cross into the area past Gibson, which gave him a clear sight at goal. However, the forward couldn’t hit the target from close range.
Karanka made two changes at half time as Albert Adomah and Adam Forshaw replaced Fischer and Clayton. Adomah almost made an immediate impact but his cross was headed over by Negredo seven minutes into the second half.
The robust forward was presented with another chance minutes later when Ramirez picked him out at the far post. However, Negredo was unable to get a clean shot off through the huddle of defenders.
Best openings come at the death
The best two chances in the game occurred in the final 15 minutes. The first fell to Sociadad when Esteban Granero squared the ball back to Juanmi but he scooped the ball over when it appeared easier to score.
Moments later Boro looked to have made the breakthrough when Adomah’s cross was turned goalwards by substitute David Nugent. However, the striker was denied by an instinctive save from Ramirez at point blank range as the game ended goalless.