REFEREE Fred Graham took centre stage as Cherries’ attempts to win a fourth Championship game in succession were thwarted following a 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough today.

The Essex-based official’s baffling decision to disallow a first-half effort by Lewis Grabban denied Cherries the lead and, ultimately, proved pivotal to the contest ending in stalemate.

Graham deemed Grabban had fouled Boro’s Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, although the goalkeeper appeared to drop the ball to prevent him carrying it out of his 18-yard box.

And although Grabban poked the ball home from an acute angle, his strike was chalked off just before the interval as Cherries were involved in their first 0-0 draw of the season.

Mohamed Coulibaly was drafted in for his first start since the opening day of the season as Eddie Howe made one change to the Cherries starting line-up.

Coulibaly, fully recovered from Achilles and calf injuries, replaced Scotsman Ryan Fraser, who was named among the Cherries substitutes.

Boro striker Danny Graham blazed the first chance high over the crossbar after Tommy Elphick’s stray pass had been seized on by Dean Whitehead inside the opening 60 seconds.

Despite looking threatening and attacking with pace, Cherries failed to test visiting goalkeeper Konstantopoulos during the early stages with the Boro defence standing firm in front of the Greek stopper.

Referee Fred Graham, following a consultation with his assistant Dan Cook, opted to only book Grant Leadbitter after the midfielder had kicked out at Matt Ritchie during an off-the-ball incident in full view of the Main Stand.

Boro had an escape after 20 minutes when defender George Friend headed a probing free kick from Ian Harte narrowly over his own crossbar.

Friend then threw himself in front of a Ritchie piledriver before Steve Cook’s timely tackle prevented Whitehead from bursting clear midway through the first half.

Referee Graham again took centre stage when he disallowed an effort from Lewis Grabban, the striker penalised for a mysterious foul on Konstantopoulos after the goalkeeper had dropped the ball in an attempt to stop carrying it out of his 18-yard box.

Lee Tomlin ballooned a volley into the North Stand after latching on to a cross from Mustapha Carayol before Andrew Surman skied a shot over the crossbar in first-half stoppage time.

Ritchie’s cross-shot from a tight angle at the start of the second half thumped against the post before Surman’s effort was deflected for a corner following good work by Coulibaly.

Ben Gibson’s last-ditch tackle on substitute Marc Pugh denied him a shooting chance from close range before Konstantopoulos pushed a rasping drive from Simon Francis over the crossbar.

Cherries appealed in vain for a penalty after the ball had appeared to strike a defender’s arm, with Eunan O’Kane poking the loose ball over the top.

Konstantopoulos pulled off a top-drawer save to parry Surman’s 20-yard effort five minutes from time before Carayol was carried off after falling awkwardly in the closing seconds.

Cherries: Camp, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Harte, O’Kane, Ritchie (Pugh, 68), Arter, Surman (Rantie, 88), Coulibaly (Fraser, 58), Grabban.

Unused subs: Pitman, Smith, MacDonald, Allsop (g/k).

Booked: O’Kane.

Boro: Konstantopoulos, Varga, Omeruo, Gibson, Friend, Adomah, Whitehead, Leadbitter (Ledesma, 77), Tomlin (Chalobah, 58), Carayol (Main, 90), Graham. Unused subs: Butterfield, Williams, Atkinson, Steele (g/k).

Booked: Leadbitter, Whitehead, Omeruo.

Referee: Fred Graham (Essex).

Attendance: 9,710 (including 1,187 away supporters).