McCarthy's header leaves Boro stinging in the rain

Blackburn Rovers 1 Middlesbrough 1: South African striker's first goal since February earns Rovers last-gasp equaliser
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The Independent Football

It was a night of stereotypes. The rain and wind hurtled in from the Pennines, the football was hard and unyielding and all that was needed to complete the Lowry landscape was a few people in clogs. Oh, and to keep up with tradition, Middlesbrough conceded a goal in theclosing minutes.

Five times this season Boro have suffered in the last four minutes and last night it was Benni MCarthy who applied the cruel finish when he rose to head in Brett Emerton's corner. This time it was even later than usual because it was deep into four minutes of stoppage time when the blow was delivered.

You felt for Middlesbrough, who had a goal by Tuncay Sanli erroneously ruled out for offside, but Blackburn Rovers could point to Roque Santa Cruz's shot hitting the post in the first half in mitigation. In truth, they were relieved to get a goal at any time, no matter how late, because until McCarthy's late show they had not scored in the Premier League for more than five hours. It was timely in more ways than one.

"It was a good point and a good response," said Gareth Southgate, the Middlesbrough manager, referring in part to the 5-0 mauling his side suffered a week earlier against Chelsea. "We came into this after a week in which we were hammered from all quarters and gave a performance of character and resilience."

Paul Ince, the Blackburn manager, conceded that he would have been less calm if he had been Southgate, adding. "It would have been a bad weekend for me if we had come away with nothing."

Eight days ago Boro's defending was a shambles but Blackburn may have been taking lessons because the home rearguard could not have looked more sleepy if they had been in their pyjamas in the ninth minute. They stood and appealed for offside while Jérémie Alliadière ran unmarked and unhindered from deep and Rovers were spared an embarrassing goal only because his volley bounced off the bar.

That provided the cattle prod for Blackburn and they were unfortunate not to be ahead in the 15th minute. Emerton had already suggested Boro might be less than watertight at the back when he was allowed a low shot that was stopped only by Ross Turnbull's knee, but the visiting marking disintegrated when Vince Grella played a ball between the centre-backs and Santa Cruz's shot hit a post.

Middlesbrough were denied a goal after 23 minutes when Tuncay was wrongly adjudged to be offside from Gary O'Neil's header. The Turkish striker beat Paul Robinson with a spectacular overhead kick and it was little wonder he wagged his finger at the linesman when he was denied.

It was typical of a topsy-turvy first half that Blackburn's reprieve was followed by two efforts that might have brought them goals. Turnbull reacted sharply to keep out Santa Cruz's header and in stoppage time the Boro keeper got his body in the way as Santa Cruz slid and shot in one movement.

Middlesbrough, facing the wind in the second half, were being forced back, but they broke out on the hour and almost scored. Alves cut in from the left and his shot initially appeared to be curling in past Robinson only for the ball to skid on the sodden turf and bounce beyond the post.

That encouraged Boro from their trenches and they took the lead with 16 minutes to go. O'Neil played a clever ball through the centre to Alves, who turned Andre Ooijer and then beat Robinson with a shot from just inside the area.

A successive win on their travels appeared to be Boro's for the taking but substitute McCarthy ruined that with his header, powerfully delivered from eight yards. "When you are that close to a victory it hurts," Southgate said. The pain was all too apparent.