Football: Queudrue brings Boro's long hangover to an end

Middlesbrough 1 Queudrue 35 Blackburn Rovers 0 Half-time: 1- 0 Attendance: 30,564
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The Independent Online
After a very dubious January, Middlesbrough opened February with their first three points of the year, but they played stuttering, not stirring, stuff, and ended up limping to the final whistle with their 10 men clinging uncomfortably to victory following Ray Parlour's late dismissal.

It was enough to regain sixth place in the table, which had been lost to Bolton's lunchtime takeover, and to revive their European ambitions which had become frustrated by their failure to take more than two points from the 15 previously available to them this year.

Yes, from this performance, if they are the sixth-best team in the country, English football is in as big trouble as Blackburn were nudged perilously near the precipice by their third pointless and goalless game in succession.

Middlesbrough's absentee list may be almost as long as their team sheet - Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink the latest victim of flu - and now there's Parlour's suspension to serve, but they never found any rhythm, and could have been robbed of their victory when Paul Dickov collapsed under Michael Reiziger's challenge.

"The lad's bundled into the back of Paul, and it's in the area,'' said the Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes, "but the calls that need to be made aren't going for us at the moment.''

The Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, was nonplussed. "Sometimes it doesn't matter how you win it, the result is all important. But we deserved it. The attitude of the players was magnificent, especially as we ended with five academy players on the pitch. We said to the players, make sure you celebrate it, but then we looked around and were wondering who we would play in midfield next week against Bolton.''

The first half hour of the game was so poor that the only noteworthy moment was Parlour's booking for taking crude retribution on Robbie Savage, who had just cleanly, if forcibly, won the ball from Bolo Zenden.

The goal came in the 35th minute, just after Stewart Downing had scraped the outside of the post. Downing, awaiting his England call-up, waited for his overlapping full-back Franck Queudrue, who then turned inside Aaron Mokoena and arrowed a shot across Brad Friedel. It was the Frenchman's third goal in a fortnight and Downing's most telling moment in a match where he could not rise above the scrappiness.

Of Downing's England call-up, his manager said: "I thought in October, November time, it was too early for him because he had not done it consistently enough, but if he gets it he has deserved it.''

The second half was no more inspiring than the first. Blackburn attacked - not a thing of beauty, and only fairly effective. Mark Schwarzer smartly tipped over Dickov's header in the 54th minute, and Gareth Southgate was ruffled enough to fluff two consecutive clearances.

Emboldened, Hughes withdrew Mokoena in favour of a second forward, the 20-year-old Jemal Johnson, but on the break it was Middlesbrough who had all the clear chances.

However, a combination of air shots and Friedel's bulk intimidating Middlesbrough's strikers ensured that the hosts did not increase their lead. And so, following Parlour's sending-off, the game ended in an extraordinarily frantic senselessness.