Middlesbrough 2 Pompey 2

112755-404_BORO_POMPEY_SR_6/8/11'Pompey vs Middlesborough at the Riverside Stadium.'Luke Varney celebrates scoring the late late equalising goal.''Picture:Steve Reid 112755-404
112755-404_BORO_POMPEY_SR_6/8/11'Pompey vs Middlesborough at the Riverside Stadium.'Luke Varney celebrates scoring the late late equalising goal.''Picture:Steve Reid 112755-404
Milan Lalkovic in action at the Hawk. Picture: Joe Pepler

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His team-mates have christened him ‘Powerball’.

Well, true to form, Luke Varney popped up to cruelly bowl Middlesbrough right over.

Apparently, the summer arrival’s nickname is in recognition of his boundless energy and refusal to rein back an alarmingly-hyperactive nature.

Blues legend has it, even when the 29-year-old took a sleeping pill ahead of that infamously aborted Charlotte Douglas flight, there was no slowing him down.

Suddenly with no plane journey to sleep through, he opted to down several strong cups of coffee to fire him up.

Varney impressively remained awake until 2am, outlasting all but three of his team-mates.

Just ask harangued room-mate David Norris, who for 14 days was deprived of crucial shut-eye, kept awake by the former Derby man’s incessant chatter.

Senseless talk which usually emanated from his sleep.

Well, Pompey’s very own Willo-the-Wisp was at his buzzing best at the Riverside.

And how his team-mates were thankful. On this occasion, anyway.

The Blues had appeared destined for an opening-day defeat, a familiar feeling over the past four campaigns.

It was when John Utaka and Benjani Mwaruwari struck in a 2-2 draw with Derby in the 2007-08 season that the Blues last avoided a loss in the first game of the campaign.

Sure enough, Rhys Williams’ strike in the 54th minute appeared as though it was going to prove decisive.

Nicky Bailey threaded a stock pass down the middle and the Australian international took advantage of a static defence to finish past Jamie Ashdown.

It was breathtakingly simple by the hosts, yet highly worrying for the visitors with Greg Halford and Ricardo Rocha forced to hold an on-pitch inquest in the aftermath.

Barely 10 minutes later, Steve Cotterill brought off Hermann Hreidarsson and Rocha for Ryan Williams and Kanu.

It was an attacking and ultimately vital substitution as the pair instigated late pressure to the Boro goal.

Stephen McManus had already cleared off the line from Dave Kitson following one Norris corner.

Then the fourth official paraded the number five on his board to signal the start of a nervy finale for Tony Mowbray’s men.

Cue the non-stop Varney to come to the fore.

The versatile striker had already drifted in from his customary left-flank position in an attempt to sniff out an equaliser.

So when substitute Christian Dailly saw his shot ricochet inside the penalty area, Varney pounced to steer the ball home.

It was a sweet moment for a player who had not scored a competitive goal since November 2010.

That header at Bolton, while representing Blackpool, was 18 games and 253 days ago.

Fitting also he should leave the pitch deep in conversation with fellow scorer Norris.

The new boys have become inseparable since asked to share a room on the trip to America last month.

And on Saturday both marked their Pompey debuts with superbly-executed finishes. Instant impacts, you could call them.

It was Norris who cancelled out Marvin Emnes’ opener, crashing home a right-foot finish on the run from outside the penalty area in the 47th minute.

Quite an introduction to Blues fans for the former Ipswich man asked to skipper Cotterill’s side in the absence of Liam Lawrence due to a hamstring injury.

Norris also turned in a high-calibre all-round performance, brimming with endeavour and equipped with an attacking edge.

For too long the Pompey midfield have lacked a goal threat.

But in one match their summer recruit looks to have solved that long-standing frustration.

The sight of the 29-year-old closing down the goalkeeper is set to become a regular one as Cotterill seeks a more offensive look to his central midfield area.

An encouraging start unquestionably from the new signing and no doubt the watching joint-owner Roman Dubov would have sported a smile of satisfaction.

Even if the occasion was slightly tainted by the embarrassing sight of his club’s meagre squad list on the back of the Middlesbrough programme.

In addition, just four players occupied the substitutes’ bench, two of whom totalled 72 years in terms of age.

By the end of the match, both – Kanu and Dailly – were on the pitch helping Cotterill’s troops clinch a point at a rain-sodden Riverside.

The very presence of Dailly reflects the Pompey’s manager’s desire to bring more bodies to the club to bolster his squad.

The 37-year-old trained with Pompey last week having failed to agree a new deal with Charlton.

Subsequently he has signed at Fratton Park for an initial month and his manager hasn’t ruled out the possibility of the former Derby man staying for the rest of the season.

Dailly was named on the bench for the trip to the Riverside, while Aaron Mokoena stepped into the first team in a reshuffle prompted by Lawrence’s absence.

The South African occupied a midfield position, with Joel Ward on the right, Varney on the left and Norris attacking from the centre.

Elsewhere, there was a first start since March 2010 for Tal Ben Haim, asked to operate at right back.

The Israeli international responded with an impressive performance to remind those present of a talent not glimpsed enough in a Pompey shirt.

His surging runs, in the first half especially, caused the Boro defence problems and in the 14th minute one of his forays should have led to the deadlock being broken.

Ben Haim charged into the area and when the ball fell to Dave Kitson the hosts appealed in vain for an off-side, only for the striker to see his close-range shot blocked by the keeper.

On the stroke of half-time, another surge down the right saw him pull the ball back to Hayden Mullins who wastefully clipped over from the edge of the box.

By that stage Emnes had already given Boro the lead on 24 minutes, receiving Scott McDonald’s pass and easily rolling marker Rocha to net with a smart finish.

It was Norris who levelled shortly after the break before poor defending allowed Williams to restore the hosts’ lead.

And that appeared to be enough to settle the contest.

Until Powerball sped to the rescue.