There was a feature in Blackburn's programme yesterday about the impact of Welshmen at the club, and, right on cue, it was their two Wales internationals who took centre-stage; Craig Bellamy's two goals and general excellence just about outweighing the damage done by Robbie Savage's red card, his first in club football. Blackburn's dreams of an improbable Champions' League qualification remain alive, but then, this was a day for the unexpected.
It said much about an extraordinary match that the most predictable thing was unprecedented. It has been one of football's more remarkable statistics that Savage has never been sent off at club level and, as irony would have it, when he finally did get a red card, it was probably unmerited. Booked for a lunge on George Boateng after 52 minutes, he was then unfortunate to collect a second yellow two minutes later as Boateng's pass was driven into his arm from close range.
"I thought the first challenge was a good tackle," the Rovers manager, Mark Hughes, said. "The second was ball to hand, on the halfway line. He wasn't trying to stop him scoring. I asked the referee [Chris Foy] afterwards, and he said he had no choice, but I beg to differ. I thought he could have given him the benefit of the doubt, but Robbie doesn't get the benefit of the doubt."
Probably because of the blustery conditions, goals seemed to emerge independently from the pattern of the play. That said, Blackburn's victory was fully merited, as Boro, with a team of seven changes from the side that reached the quarter-final of the Uefa Cup in the Eternal City against Roma on Wednesday, struggled to find any rhythm.
The home side took an 11th-minute lead, as Bellamy cut across Chris Riggott, neglected the opportunity to tumble over a rather clumsy challenge, and hooked a shot inside the far post. The defending was poor there, but Blackburn were even more culpable in gifting Boro an equaliser. Lucas Neill's throw eluded Zurab Khizanishvili, finding its way to James Morrison, and when he laid in Mark Viduka, the Australian finished powerfully at the near post.
Bellamy was key as Blackburn regained the lead just before the half-hour, winning a free-kick as he was checked after nutmegging Franck Queudrue on the right side of the box. Whether Morten Gamst Pedersen was shooting from a tight angle only he will know but, perhaps assisted by a blustery wind, his free-kick swooped past an unsighted Mark Schwarzer.
At that stage Blackburn seemed in control, but then came the sending off and Middlesbrough equalised nine minutes later. Fabio Rochemback spends most of his life shooting from range, but on this occasion, as he met Morrison's cut-back, his drive flew home through a crowd of players. The pendulum had swung Middlesbrough's way, but, in keeping with the game, Blackburn conjured a goal from nowhere to take the lead, again, after 69 minutes. Bellamy, played onside by Ugo Ehiogu, gathered Pedersen's flick wide on the right, advanced to the edge of the box, and thrashed a superb finish into the top corner for his 15th of the season.
"You saw his work ethic today," said Hughes of Bellamy. "He worked his socks off and he wasn't to be denied. The goals were magnificent. He's given us the quality we didn't have last season. This is a huge win for us, and we'd have been very disappointed if we hadn't got the three points." It may have been unorthodox, but few outside Middlesbrough would disagree.Reuse content