Football: Blackburn sleepwalk

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Middlesbrough . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

DESPITE Kenny Dalglish's insistence that their season is not yet over, it could take Blackburn Rovers some time to shake off the feeling that not just the present campaign but existence as they know it ended in Sheffield last week.

Middlesbrough would have been ideal opponents against whom to demonstrate that there is life after their double whammy in cup competitions. Instead, Rovers contributed fully to a spectacle so dire that the Ewood pressbox regulars, who have been complaining about season-ticket holders blocking their view, were contemplating asking some of the broader and taller culprits if they would mind standing up a little more often.

It had all the makings of a classic goalless draw, but each side gifted the other a glaring first-half opening with somnolent defending. Derek Whyte contrived to let an innocuous pass from Patrik Andersson go right through him - a good conjuring trick but of limited use in the back four - for Blackburn's goal. The midfielder, Mark Atkins, had all the time and space he needed in the penalty area to control the ball and shoot home.

Blackburn were even more statuesque seven minutes later when Tommy Wright's corner found the striker John Hendrie, the smallest player in the area, completely unmarked four yards out and his half-volley levelled the scores.

A long-range effort from Paul Wilkinson was well saved by Bobby Mimms, but Blackburn stumbled upon the better of the chances in the second half. Steve Livingstone put a header over the top and one straight at Ian Ironside. Livingstone and Lee Makel, who provided most of the deft touches in a match of consistent clumsiness, both shot wide.

Middlesbrough, for whom three points would have been a welcome contribution to their relegation fight, went close when Wilkinson narrowly failed to get the necessary touch to Wright's cross-shot. Neither side deserved to win, however; in fact, neither fully deserved a point.

Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; D May, H Berg, L Makel, C Hendry, K Moran, S Ripley, M Atkins, S Livingstone, P Andersson (R Wegerle, 76 min), J Wilcox. Subs not used: N Marker, D Collier (gk). Manager: K Dalglish.

Middlesbrough: I Ironside; C Morris (C Kamara, 77 min), J Phillips, N Mohan, A Peake, D Whyte, T Wright, R Mustoe, P Wilkinson, W Falconer, J Hendrie. Subs not used: C Hignett, A Collett (gk). Manager: L Lawrence.

Referee: G Ashby (Malvern).

Goals: Atkins (1-0, 24 min); Hendrie (1-1, 31 min).

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