Blackburn Rovers 2 Middlesbrough 1: McCarthy lifts Blackburn above mire

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The Independent Football

Blackburn Rovers adapted the better to the sodden conditions at Ewood Park yesterday as they followed up their Boxing Day win over Liverpool by beating their fellow relegation candidates Middlesbrough. Benni McCarthy's 74th-minute header proved the difference as the two sides struggled to play around and amid pools of standing water.

Blackburn's manager, Mark Hughes, said: "It was difficult to play our normal game today and we had to battle through. In the end I think we deserved it and we could have won more handsomely in the end. We have now got four wins out of five and that is a decent run."

Blackburn were unchanged from the side that beat Liverpool while Middlesbrough were without the injured Julio Arca and their manager, Gareth Southgate, made two changes, replacing Arca with Mark Viduka and bringing in James Morrison for Gaizka Mendieta.

Rovers took the lead in the ninth minute when Lucas Neill's long ball dropped for Shabani Nonda, and the Congolese striker volleyed past Mark Schwarzer. Andre Ooijer denied Lee Cattermole a chance in the 27th minute after reacting quickest to Viduka's flickand prodding the ball out for a corner. With Boro enjoying their best spell of the match, Yakubu Aiyegbeni rued the wet weather when he shot from the edge of the box only to see the ball stick before it had passed the penalty spot.

After half-time Cattermole was booked for tangling with Andy Todd off the ball. Boro drew level from the penalty spot in the 61st minute after Ooijer hauled down Emanuel Pogatetz. Yakubu struck the equaliser low to Brad Friedel's right. Moments later the referee, Martin Atkinson, rejected Rovers' appeals for a penalty, ruling Neill had deliberately gone to ground under pressure from Pogatetz.

Suddenly it was Boro who looked more likely to win with Cattermole hitting a long-range effort wide. Rovers clawed their way back into the lead, however, when Savage delivered a long ball into the box and McCarthy headed home.

Southgate was disappointed by his side's defending. "For 20 minutes of the second half we were stronger and it looked like we had got a bit of momentum," he said. "But when we looked the likely winners we conceded a goal, and I am bitterly disappointed about that."