Blackburn Rovers. . .2
WE CAME expecting a Shearer spectacular, but it was a virtuoso finishing performance from the 29-year-old Boro winger John Hendrie, who scored a second- half hat-trick, which stole the show, 10 years to the day since he made his Football League debut.
Sometimes the old cliches are best: it was a game of two halves. Under pressure and a goal down at the interval, Middlesbrough came out and produced an attacking abandon not seen here for some time.
'I told my side at half-time we had to get a head of steam up immediately,' Lennie Lawrence said afterwards, adding: 'I didn't fancy Hendrie before I came here but he gets better and better. He deserves a chance in the Scottish squad.'
And Kenny Dalglish's dry response when asked what for his thoughts concerning Hendrie's hat-trick? 'I was very disappointed with it.'
So Dalglish's side lost their unbeaten away record, but early on it seemed as if they would exploit a Boro defence weakened by injuries when Jason Wilcox twice burst through Kernaghan-sized holes only to finish with a disappointing tameness.
Then Alan Shearer spurned two chances which he would normally gobble up, heading one straight at Stephen Pears and driving the other wide.
No matter, Middlesbrough battled away gamely without creating anything quite as clear-cut apart from a close range chance which Paul Wilkinson fluffed.
The breakthrough which had eluded Blackburn came 90 seconds before the interval and was a goal of vintage quality.
Wilcox, picking up the ball just over the halfway line, was allowed to advance unchallenged towards goal and, as his markers backed off, the youngster picked his spot from 27 yards and beat Pears all ends up.
The mood changed dramatically in a 15-minute spell at the start of the second half.
The substitution of Jamie Pollock for Robbie Mustoe had added bite to the midfield and his neat little ball to the near post was met by Hendrie, who flicked in the equaliser.
As Rovers reeled, the Scot tried his luck again, this time from the edge of the area after a mistake by Kevin Moran and his low right-foot drive flew in.
Even worse was to follow 12 minutes later for Blackburn, who by now should really have twigged that Hendrie was hot.
But no, the defence, which had previously conceded only five away goals all season, was caught at sixes and sevens and, following more persistence from Pollock, Hendrie picked up a loose ball and completed his hat-trick with a completely unstoppable right-foot drive.
That should have been it but, after Wilkinson had passed up the chance to make it four when he lifted Hendrie's cross over the bar, Rovers pulled one back.
Pears failed to gather Roy Wegerle's cross and the loose ball bounced over the line from the unfortunate Phillips' legs.
In a tense finale Shearer had the chance to snaffle a point but it would have been an injustice had his glancing header gone into the back of the net.
And finally, for the record, Brian Hill, the referee whose performances have come in for a fair amount of criticism from some Premier League managers, had an excellent match.
Middlesbrough: S Pears; C Fleming, J Phillips, N Mohan, D Whyte, R Mustoe (J Pollock 45 min), J Hendrie, A Peake, P Wilkinson, C Hignett (M Proctor 77 min), T Wright. Subnot used: I Ironside (gk). Manager: L Lawrence.
Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; C Price, A Wright, T Sherwood, C Hendry, K Moran, S Ripley (R Wegerle 70 min), G Cowans, A Shearer, M Newell, J Wilcox. Subs not used: N Marker, D Collier (gk). Manager: K Dalglish.
Referee: B Hill (Kettering).
Goals: J Wilcox (0-1 44 min); J Hendrie (1-1, 52 min); J Hendrie, (2-1, 56 min, J Hendrie (3-1, 67 min), J Phillips (og) (3-2, 75 min).