Blackburn Rovers 2 Middlesbrough 1: Southgate troops up for dogfight

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The Independent Online

The monsoon conditions made it feel more like Ewood Ark, and Gareth Southgate's problems certainly seem to be multiplying two by two.

Without an away win since early April, Middlesbrough make a welcome return home today to the Riverside, scene of their only victory in nine games, to host Sheffield United who, ominously, look down on them in the scramble to avoid the unwanted invitation to the Championship. Six-pointer does not even begin to cover it.

To his credit, with Boro only three points above the relegation zone and regularly playing the kind of no-risk football that, reduced prices aside, has turned supporters away in their droves, Southgate makes no attempt to gild the lily.

"We know it's going to be a long, painful drawn-out process this year," the Middlesbrough manager admitted. "We've got to keep our heads and not hit the panic button because it's very tight down there and three points will make things look very different".

Sheffield United have already beaten Middlesbrough once this season, and for those of a Teesside persuasion, the completion of a double would be unthinkable.

While Southgate would never be so short-term as to label the game "must-win", George Boateng does not necessarily concur. "It was must-win against Charlton earlier this month to give ourselves some breathing space and it's the same again here," the Middlesbrough captain insisted, with the significant caveat: "We're in transition and it'll be difficult."

Southgate's side merited a point against Blackburn for their recovery from shipping Shabani Nonda's impressive early volley, Yakubu Aiyegbeni putting them on level terms from the penalty spot with his seventh goal of the season after Lucas Neill got too much of a grip on Emanuel Pogatetz.

However, they were up against Benni McCarthy, who was anxious not to disappoint his watching parents, the South African striker keeping the folks happy by heading a late winner from a cross by Robbie Savage, who has agreed a 12-month contract extension to remain with Blackburn until 2009.

"I thought I wasn't going to be able to carry on after an early injury, but it would have taken a bus to knock me out," McCarthy revealed after his second consecutive winner pushed his side further towards the safe waters of mid-table.

"My parents were here and I didn't want them coming for nothing, so now they've been to two games and seen me score in both."

For McCarthy, the inspirational qualities of Savage ran his parents' presence in the stands close. He added: "When you feel like you can't give any more or you're injured and you want to go off, you see Robbie's work-rate and spirit and it's just amazing. He motivates you to think 'To hell with the pain, if he can do it then so can I'."

Goals: Nonda (8) 1-0; Yakubu pen (59) 1-1; McCarthy (74) 2-1.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2) Friedel; Emerton, Ooijer, Todd, Neill; Bentley, Savage, Tugay (Mokoena, 68), Pedersen; McCarthy, Nonda (Derbyshire, 85). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Henchoz, Peter.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Davies (Christie, 84), Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Morrison (Johnson, 84), Boateng (Euell, 78), Cattermole, Downing; Viduka, Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Parnaby.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Blackburn Neill; Middlesbrough Pogatetz, Davies, Cattermole.

Man of the match: McCarthy.

Attendance: 22,653.

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