Full time: Middlesbrough 1, Burnley 0
The magic of Christmas was brought to the Riverside Stadium on Boxing Day as former Clarets and Boro defender Gary Parkinson attended the Championship fixture - his first since being struck with Locked-in-Syndrome in September 2010.
The 45-year-old returned to Teeside with his family, including devoted wife Deborah, to see two of his former clubs go head-to-head. Parkinson, a member of the Middlesbrough squad in the inaugural Premier League season, received rapturous applause as he made his return to the field.
Parkinson made a name for himself at Turf Moor when his bobbling effort past John Keeley at the old Wembley Stadium in the 66th minute secured a 2-1 Second Division play-off final victory for the Clarets against Stockport County in 1994.
In a battle of the tacticians, it was Boro coach Aitor Karanka - tutored by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid while his assistant at the Bernebau - who took the initiative with an organised approach that often found the visitors static on the break. While employing Dean Whitehead and Richard Smallwood in strict holding midfield roles, it gave speed merchant Albert Adomah and Emmanuel Ledesma the license to hog the touchline and pen full-backs Kieran Trippier and Danny Lafferty back.
And the latter Boro pair were an integral part of a first half display that saw them take a 1-0 lead in to the break. The duo almost combined in the opening moments when Ledesma fended off the attention of Michael Kightly on the right hand side and executed a penetrative inswinging cross that Adomah misjudged at the back post once the Ghana international had raced goal-side of Trippier.
Within 60 seconds, Adomah was causing problems again as he was slipped in past Trippier from George Friend’s pass and crossed for imposing striker Lukas Jutkiewicz who glanced wide from close range under pressure from Jason Shackell.
Though the Clarets saw the bulk of possession, Boro had more conviction, zip and invention to open up their opponents. As the home side pressed high again, Whitehead intercepted possession and worked the ball centrally to Ledesma who worked the ball on to his left boot and fired a rasping drive across Tom Heaton that flashed past the post.
After Adomah was denied by a last ditch challenge from Michael Duff, when opting to take on Trippier rather than shooting, Ledesma bent a free-kick wide of the angle on the quarter-of-an-hour mark after Shackell had fouled Jutkiewicz.
The Clarets first sight of goal was created by Trippier, who in a rare burst forward clipped a pass through the aperture between Friend and Jonathan Woodgate but both Scott Arfield and Danny Ings failed to make a connection as the ball rolled through to Shay Given.
Minutes later, after David Jones had wrestled Marvin Emnes to the ground, Ledesma’s set-piece was headed in to the arms of Heaton by Woodgate. But then came the breakthrough. Boro are renowned for scoring from distance against the Clarets - and it happened again.
Brian Jensen was beaten by two emphatic Tarmo Kink strikes in a 2-1 defeat in 2010/11 while Lee Grant fell victim to an exquisite Luke Williams drive in a 3-2 reverse last year. This time it was Ledesma’s turn, though Heaton will have been disappointed not to have kept the Argentinian’s shot out.
As Boro cleared, Emnes challenged aerially with Shackell and as the ball fell for the Dutch forward he assisted Ledesma who stepped in side and found the inside of the near post from 25 yards as his effort bounced awkwardly in front of Heaton midway through the half.
Though the Clarets grew more economical in possession, attempting to work the ball quicker, they failed to find a way through a resolute Boro rearguard. Sam Vokes was forced to fire from distance when bending an effort harmlessly wide, and even when Ings rose above his marker to meet Trippier’s cross, he found Given in exceptional form as he tipped over the bar.
The momentum switched slightly after the interval, as the Clarets more than matched their hosts in an open half. Sean Dyche’s side worked the ball better and committed men forward as they sought the equaliser.
First Ings’ shot on the turn from the edge of the box was gathered comfortably by Given, before Heaton denied Jutkiewicz spectacular from the striker’s rasping effort. The £3m forward went close soon after when prospering from Lafferty’s slip but firing in to the side-netting after driving in to the box.
Two changes from either side sandwiched Ledesma’s angled drive that whistled wide of the far post, as Junior Stanislas replaced Kightly and Grant Leadbitter replaced Emnes prior to the effort while Curtis Main was introduced at the expense of Jutkiewicz and Keith Treacy replaced Arfield after.
The visitors went close to a leveller on two occasions late on. First Treacy skipped past Friend and clipped a cross to the far post which Dean Marney headed over from underneath the crossbar, before Given showed his class by turning Stanislas’s stinging effort from the edge of the penalty area over the bar.
Adomah did well to orchestrate an opening when penned in to the corner to fizz an effort at the near post which Heaton tipped over, but on the sound of referee Mark Clattenburg’s whistle the Clarets slipped from top spot as Leicester City beat Reading 1-0 at the King Power Stadium.