Kevin Blackwell revealed the crucial impact of absent boss Neil Warnock as Middlesbrough fought back to grab a deserved 1-1 draw against Bournemouth in front of 1,000 socially-distanced fans at the Riverside Stadium.
Dominic Solanke’s neat 38th-minute back-heel looked set to maintain the Cherries’ 100 per cent start to the season before substitute Marcus Browne headed the equaliser 10 minutes from time.
Warnock watched the game from his home in Cornwall where he is isolating after testing positive for coronavirus this week, but he still managed to pass on a match-saving message to his assistant.
Ashley Fletcher had been helped off injured after 68 minutes and Blackwell said: “Neil had a feeling and said, ‘Let’s have a look at Browney’, and it was a good shout.
“With the technology now, he (Warnock) had a chat to the boys before the warm-up and had a chat with them at the end and he was proud of the performance.
“He hardly called throughout the game because the performance was there.”
Frustration had been growing among Boro’s returning fans – allowed back under strict protocol as part of an EFL pilot project – as their side failed to convert their possession into clear-cut chances.
But Blackwell hailed their backing, admitting: “We will need that little edge at times and they can give it to us.
“The players gave the fans the edge today, and the fans responded to the players. It’s a shame that performance wasn’t seen by 25 or 30,000 Middlesbrough fans – they were very vocal and they were responding to what they were seeing on the pitch.
“What pleased me was the energy – when we had to make the tackles we made the tackles and when we needed to play we played. You could see Bournemouth were happy to get that result.”
Bournemouth boss Jason Tindall was also pleased to see supporters returning to the Championship, even if current rules meant no Cherries fans could be admitted.
“It was great to have some kind of atmosphere back in football and it was really good, albeit they were against us,” said Tindall.
“I felt they made a difference for the home side and that’s the first step in moving forward. I am looking forward to having some fans back at the Vitality because I think football misses the fans.”
Tindall praised the performance of Solanke and admitted some frustration over Browne’s late goal which he felt, in contrast to Blackwell, had denied his side a win they warranted.
“I didn’t think were under too much pressure in terms of our keeper having much to do, so it was disappointing to be 1-0 up and then end up throwing away two points,” said Tindall.
“I think Dominic is an excellent player, he finished the season well last year and as a striker you want to get off the mark as quickly as possible, and he did that with a good goal and had another good chance.
“Since he’s been playing more regularly I think you’ve seen his true qualities and the capabilities of what he can produce. Dom’s a confident guy now, he works at his game incredibly hard, and I’m sure he’s going to score many goals.”
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