Good Stead stands in and rewards Souness' faith

Middlesbrough 0 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Online

If the art of Premiership goal-scoring lies in making the most of what you are offered, however little that might be, then Jon Stead has a long and fruitful career ahead of him on this early evidence.

Rovers' £1m transfer-window signing from Huddersfield was expected to start his top-flight career on the bench at Middlesbrough. Instead, Graeme Souness included from the kick-off a player whom he had gone back for three times before finally signing. The manager's decision was vindicated when Stead converted his only sniff of goal into a match-winner.

Stead is a gangling 20-year-old who scored 18 times for Huddersfield this season before his move, and the composure with which he took his single chance at the Riverside suggests that the supply will not necessarily dry up in the Premiership.

For the goal, the even more youthful and flimsy looking Paul Gallagher made ground down the left-hand side and Danny Mills' tackle only steered the ball into Stead's stride. From then on, his coolness in slotting it past the right hand of the advancing Mark Schwarzer was impressive, the ball ending up neatly in the bottom corner.

"It wasn't an easy chance. It was a difficult finish for him,'' said Souness who leapfrogged his new man ahead of the likes of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. "He's got an eye for goal and he showed that today. You didn't even see the best of him on a very difficult pitch, because he's got very good technique.''

Apart from Stead's memorable moment, the match belonged - territorially and in most other ways - to Middlesbrough. Still basking in the glow of reaching the Carling Cup final, this should have been the afternoon when they showed their supporters that they could keep their minds on business in the Premiership as well. They made and missed chances from the start, with only two minutes gone when Gaizka Mendieta shot wide of the post after he and Massimo Maccarone had opened up the Blackburn defence down the right. Mendieta was guilty of another bad miss later in the half when he shot tamely and straight at Brad Friedel after Juninho's quickly taken free-kick had set him up.

Stead's 39th minute goal forced a rethink, with the Boro manager, Steve McClaren, making two substitutions at half-time. One of the new players, Joseph-Desiré Job, almost squeezed a shot under the bar before Juninho sent another effort just over.

Friedel has perhaps not been as commanding a presence in the Blackburn goal as he was last season, but two top-class second-half saves, from close-range volleys by Juninho and Gareth Southgate, emphasised his continuing value. By way of backing him up, Craig Short - who was a warrior in defence alongside Markus Babbel - cleared off the line after the second of those saves.

It summed up Blackburn's resilience as they gained only their second win in nine games, and Middlesbrough's lack of luck and composure.

Middlesbrough 0 Blackburn Rovers 1
Stead 39

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 28,307

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