Football: Blackburn's early promise fails to produce

Middlesbrough 2 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Online
ROSE-COLOURED spectacles are an essential accessory for any football manager and Roy Hodgson has worn his more often than most this season.

But his post-match version of why three points had slipped from Blackburn's grasp yet again sounded less like the usual managerial wishful thinking than a reasonable assessment of the previous 90 minutes.

"It was a game we should really have won but circumstances contrived against us. The performance of the team and individual players led me to believe we would do it, but the ball twice fell kindly for them and dealt us another crushing blow.

"This is becoming a long playing record. We deserved better, but the only satisfaction is in winning."

Blackburn certainly looked the better side for long spells, patiently passing the ball and showing plenty of movement in the penalty area at set-pieces. If they failed to create the chances their share of possession warranted, the lack of a fully-fit striker was to blame. Kevin Davies lacked confidence on his return and Jason Wilcox, pressed into service alongside him in the continuing absence of Chris Sutton, is clearly more comfortable on the wing.

But in Damien Johnson, who made a series of penetrating runs from all parts of the pitch, Blackburn had the most impressive player on view, and when Tim Sherwood stooped to head home Damien Duff's corner after 55 minutes it looked as though they had done enough to record their first away win of the season.

Boro's more direct approach had produced more shots on target, with Tim Flowers making fine reflex saves from Mikkel Beck and Andy Townsend, but the steam seemed to have gone out of them until Bryan Robson made a double substitution on the hour.

If coming back from Benfica to make his debut in the teeth of a Teeside gale was a culture shock for Brian Deane, he did not show it. His introduction alongside Phil Stamp gave Boro the penetration they had been lacking, and Flowers made good stops from Stamp and Hamilton Ricard.

Even so, Wilcox squandered a golden opportunity to make victory safe for Rovers before Boro equalised in fortuitous fashion with just seven minutes left. Ricard and Darren Peacock tussled for a long ball and the former seemed to control it with his arm. Peacock then did likewise, but although he looked to be outside the area a penalty was awarded which Ricard scored to consolidate his position as the Premiership's leading marksman.

The game was into its final minute when Gianluca Festa's shot was charged down, and Curtis Fleming poked the loose ball home to lift Boro to third place in the table.

Their victory made it easier for Robson to deal with the inevitable questions about the absent Paul Gascoigne. "Gazza will be a big loss to us," he said, "But we have a good team spirit, the lads all worked hard for each other, and that is what matters at the moment."

Goals: Sherwood (55) 0-1; Ricard pen (83) 1-1; Fleming 90 2-1.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Beresford; Fleming, Cooper, Vickers, Festa; Townsend, Summerbell (Stamp 60), Mustoe, Gordon; Ricard, Beck (Deane 60) Substitutes not used: Harrison, Blackmore, Stockdale.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Davidson, Peacock, Henchoz; Johnson, Sherwood, Flitcroft, Duff; Davies (Dunn, 72), Wilcox. Substitutes not used: Croft, Taylor, Fettis, Pedersen.

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Festa, Beck, Townsend. Blackburn Rovers: Peacock, Davidson.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield)

Attendance: 34,413

Man of the match: Johnson.