Coventry City failed to register an effort on target at CBS Arena as they were held to a goalless draw by Middlesbrough in the Championship play-off semi-final first leg.
Michael Carrick’s Boro was the biggest threat in a tense but mediocre contest.
They went close when Chuba Akpom and Isaiah Jones brought in first-half saves from goalkeeper Ben Wilson.
Mark Robins’ side will need to improve in Wednesday’s return leg at Riverside Stadium.
The two top scorers in the Championship, Akpom with 29 and City striker Viktor Gyokeres with 21, managed just one effort on target between them, when Wilson hit the Middlesbrough striker’s shot on bar.
Riley McGree put Akpom in the box, but his right-footed shot wasn’t powerful enough to beat Wilson.
Wilson then had to be alert again at his nearest post to bravely save from Jones after a misplaced pass from Callum Doyle was cut out.
But the nearest goal was threatened after that, Paddy McNair’s injury-time corner, which missed Wilson’s left post by inches.
High stakes for Coventry and Boro
The tension of the occasion of a very pleasant sunny Sunday lunchtime in Coventry was due to the size of the stakes on offer for Coventry and Boro.
Coventry haven’t played Premier League football since their 34-year stay in the top flight ended under Gordon Strachan in 2001 – and it’s comfortably the closest they’ve come to getting back there.
Their history over the past decade in particular has been all the more remarkable – two further relegations, two ownership changes, two stadium moves and a problematic ground-sharing deal with rugby club Wasps.
But their progress in the six years since boss Robins returned to the club has helped put things back on the pitch, despite the lingering problems.
Boro, on the other hand, was only exiled from the top flight for six years. But they too have been back on an upward curve since Carrick arrived at Teesside at the end of October.
When Coventry won 1-0 at home to Boro at the start of the season, both teams were in the bottom three.
But since then Carrick’s side have had the best record in the Championship – even better than champions Burnley and good enough to take them from 21st to fourth, five points better than Coventry, who came on their own from even further, having at one time been down below.
With either Sunderland or Luton awaiting the final, that tie couldn’t be more on the line when the two sides line up again on Teesside in midweek.
And Coventry can head north with positive memories of their only previous play-off experience, in 2018, when Robins’ men were home outfit in the first leg by Notts County, but won the return match 4-1.
Coventry City manager Mark Robins told BBC CWR:
“We’re in there. We’re going to go out there and do our best. There’s still everything to play for and it’s very finely balanced.
“We have nothing to lose. It all depends on them because they are expected to win now. They will be seen as the favourites.
“There was very little choice between the teams. It was disappointing in terms of the chances created by both teams, but the energy was phenomenal. We had to work really hard to get what we got.
“In the second half we were much better, but we just didn’t have the vanguard. It shows how hard you have to work to create anything.”
Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick told BBC Radio Tees:
“It was a tight game. We knew we were going to have to defend well because they are a real threat going forward.
“But Coventry also have a good defensive record and we managed to create a decent chance or two that on another day we could have taken.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a while and the boys will be all the better for it and getting into the thick of it.
“Coventry are a good team on a good course. But now we can go into Wednesday night a bit stronger.”