These games happen.
Last season, Leicester drew with Bournemouth (by this scoreline) and West Brom at home; Aston Villa, Bournemouth (again), and Stoke away..among seven other draws against bigger sides. They won the league by 10 points.
Fluke team? WORST LEAGUE CHAMPS EVER INNIT INNIT INNIT? Fine. Two seasons ago, Chelsea drew Burnley at home, and away they lost to Newcastle, West Brom (3-0!!!)...oh, and drew against Sunderland. They won the league by 8 points.
So, let's all relax. As those plucky little underdogs Manchester United showed on Monday past, sometimes a small team can play 10 center-halves and gut out a draw if their discipline holds and they ride their luck a bit. Snark towards Jose Mourinho aside, Middlesbrough could (should?) have won this game outright, to be fair.
I don't know. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that there wasn't any rotation other than Mohamed Elneny coming in for the suspended Granit Xhaka, but the guys looked a little...shagged out. There was possession - a lot of it (try 72% by game's end), but as much as we huffed and puffed there wasn't a way around the wall of blue shirts in front of Victor Valdes' goal.
After about 15 minutes of sterile domination (think a bored Long Island housewife reading Fifty Shades of Grey), all we had to show for it was a rather ambitious penalty shout, rightly - I think - turned down by Mike Dean. Sure enough, Boro went right up the other end and damn near scored twice.
We lost the ball at the halfway line when Laurent Koscielny dithered badly, and they countered quickly and well. Adama Traoré was played in alone, but Petr Cech came out well to cut down the angle. He saved with his feet, and was up quickly enough to save the rebound. The second save was brilliant, but why Alvaro Negredo opted to go short side with the far side gaping is an absolute mystery to me.
Virtually seconds later, Boro won a free kick on another counter, and Cech could only watch as Gaston Ramirez curled it over the wall and onto the bar. That was the theme of the half - we had all of the ball, they had all of the chances.
Valdes made a decent save on a free kick by Alexis Sanchez, but continuing that theme, Boro stormed straight back up the pitch and should have been ahead again. This time, Traoré crossed it in, one of their guys won the second ball, and it looped out to Ramirez unmarked on the far post. He thumped in a header, but Cech was there to batter it away. While it was right at him, to be fair, the brilliance in that save was in the rebound control. Check out this picture from Getty Images - had he not deflected it out, they had two guys there to tuck in the rebound.
We did have one more chance before the half, but Mesut Ozil was a half-step too slow to get to Theo Walcott's dragback across the six-yard box.
That was the thing, really. Those two, Alexis, and Alex Iwobi were a bit off the pace all game long. When the defense is massed in front of you like this, either they have to make a mistake or there has to be some kind of moment of brilliance to unlock enough space to fashion quality chances. Forget moments of brilliance, there weren't that many moments of competence today.
But, like I said, it happens in a 38-game season. The lot down the other end of the Seven Sisters aren't too happy with their day's work, either.
Still, there was one shining moment where, like the Ludogorets game at midweek, we could have grabbed the second half by the throat with an early goal. It was a gift from Valdes, too, and let's be clear about this guy. He is right up there with Asmir Begovic to me as the most overrated goalkeepers of their generation. Beyond the fact that literally any professional keeper could win with THAT Barcelona team, the dude has always had a ricket or two in his locker. There's a reason he never came anywhere near dislodging Iker Casillas from the Spanish national side, that's for sure.
Anyway, Valdes got caught up with two of his defenders in dealing with a nothing cross, and in the end the keeper dropped it. Alexis was there, and though the angle was tight, a shot was probably doable. Instead, he sent a looping ball across the six, and Walcott just couldn't time it right to meet it with a header.
It was just one of those days.
Oh, right, Valdes did make a decent stop on a long-range shot from Alexis. Credit to him, that was a good save.
As the second half wore on, we brought on Lucas Perez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Iwobi and Elneny, but it didn't change much. Boro held their ground, worked hard for one another, and closed down the spaces brilliantly. Really, they deserved their point.
How easily it could have been all three, though. Our guys mentally switched off a bit at the end, perhaps because they had even more of the ball than usual. It was that man Traoré again, who won the ball and played Negredo in alone. At this point I probably would have backed Cech to save it anyway, but Koscielny somehow made up the distance and came up with a brilliant saving tackle from behind. If he got that even 5% wrong, penalty and red card and ballgame.
Meanwhile, we had one glorious chance in injury time, and even finally found the back of Valdes' net. Unfortunately, the AR was well-placed to see that Ozil was about a mile and a half offside before he flicked it over the advancing keeper. Bugger.
Again, this stuff happens sometimes. If you had been offered 20 points and a +10 GD from the first nine league matches, and to be top of the pile in our Champions League group after three games (knowing that Paris away was in there), you'd have taken it...I'd have take it, and so would your Aunt Tilly, who doesn't even like football.
The fact that the next match is the League Cup against Reading is a welcome break from more pressing matters. I would expect that guys like Alexis and Ozil and Theo, who have all played a ton of minutes so far, will be nowhere near the starting XI on that occasion. Rest up, boys. More important games are coming. As for this one? Forget it, it's already over, and it's one point gained on a day where we probably deserved nothing.
Man of the Match: Adama Traoré