Football: Rovers' stilted service

Blackburn Rovers 0 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Online
DEEP IN the second half of an otherwise uneventful match, the Jack Walker Stand rose as one man and waved two fingers in the direction of Alan Wilkie.

It was a display of emotion out of kilter with a lifeless afternoon's football and it was almost a shame that the furious fans and the equally incensed Brian Kidd had to be told that the referee had not just booked Middlesbrough's Mark Summerbell for the second time.

The young midfielder, preferred in the starting line-up to the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Keith O'Neill, had been wrongly credited on the ground's electronic scoreboard with an earlier yellow card actually shown to Robbie Stockdale. "The fans were confused, but we never were," said Bryan Robson, Boro's manager. "We knew who had been booked."

With the possible exception of a late flourish from Gascoigne, it was the most exciting moment of the afternoon. With Premiership survival to play for, Rovers did not lack urgency; nor, with a 4-3-3 formation, were they short of potential goalscorers.

What they lacked was any accurate service, most of it merely giving Gary Pallister, back at the heart of the Boro defence, the sort of routine heading practice he hardly needs at this stage of his career. Pallister was also at the centre of Middlesbrough's unambitious game-plan.

Content for the most part to sit back and absorb Rovers' unfocused pressure - only one sharp effort from the highly promising Matt Jansen really troubled them - they might have wondered at the end whether a more expansive policy would have been rewarded.

The away fans had already made it clear that they would have welcomed the departure of Stockdale, Summerbell or anyone else, provided that the result had been the introduction of Gascoigne, whose heavy-duty warm-up exercises on the touchline had created more interest than most of the action on the pitch.

When he was allowed to join in, Gazza looked more than ever like the rich man's pub footballer, woefully lacking in match sharpness, but still with a talent lurking beneath the surface that most of the others involved could only dream about possessing.

Blackburn Rovers (4-3-3): Filan; McAteer, Henchoz, Peacock, Davidson; Johnson (Gillespie, 60), Marcolin (Carsley, 60), Wilcox; Ward, Sutton, Jansen (Davies, 84). Substitutes not used: Flowers (gk), Broomes.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Stockdale, Cooper, Pallister, Gordon; Maddison (Gascoigne, 69), Summerbell, Townsend (O'Neill, 77), Harrison; Ricard, Deane. Substitutes not used: Beresford (gk), Moore, Kinder.

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street). Bookings: Blackburn: Marcolin, McAteer, Boro: Stockdale, Summerbell, Gascoigne. Man of the match: Pallister.

Attendance: 27,482.