Middlesbrough 0 Blackburn Rovers 1: Dickov's late strike rewards Blackburn

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The Independent Football

Paul Dickov ensured that justice was done with a dramatic late winner to see Blackburn through to the Carling Cup semi-finals.

The Scot reacted first to steer home a deflected Shefki Kuqi shot from close range as injury time approached.

It can prove to be a long night when the best chances fall to defenders in a cup tie, and it appeared the Riverside would witness an extra half-hour for that very reason until Dickov's sixth goal of the season settled a tight contest.

With seasoned goal-scorers on both sides, the law of sod intervened as the less than predatory instincts of Gareth Southgate and Ryan Nelsen combined to ensure that both goals remained intact until the 90th minute.

Blackburn deserved to go through for the way they forced the pace against hosts whose enthusiasm surprisingly waned as the contest wore on.

Graeme Souness had plenty of spare seats to choose from as the Newcastle manager spied on two of his previous clubs.

Criticising low turn-outs at the Riverside has become rather passé, but the third of four consecutive home games in the space of 12 days again failed to capture the imagination of the Teesside public, whose call for significantly lower ticket prices was once more ignored by the club.

While the apathy among supporters was tangible, a similar accusation could not be levelled at either side.

Both maintained the commitment they have previously afforded this competition by fielding strong starting line-ups, although the hosts were not helped by the absence, with a virus, of Mark Viduka.

Blackburn were similarly hampered up front, with Craig Bellamy's hamstring deemed not yet ready for a return, despite positive noises prior to kick-off.

The Welshman's absence failed to lessen Blackburn's early threat, with Dickov bringing a low fingertip save from Mark Schwarzer, while Robbie Savage flung himself hair-first at a Michael Gray cross, only for his diving header to fly narrowly wide.

Brad Friedel was only latterly called into action, showing no little amount of courage to race out and head clear Gareth Southgate's testing through-ball with Yakubu's muscular frame bearing down on goal.

Middlesbrough posed only a sporadic threat, however, and Schwarzer was soon called upon again, this time to make a smart save down to his left to keep out Shefki Kuqi's angled drive.

Savage attempted to enliven proceedings shortly before the interval, intimating that Emanuel Pogatetz had spat in his face in an altercation after the midfielder had upended Adam Johnson.

The Austrian defender had done nothing of the sort, and the referee Alan Wiley was not to be fooled, rightly awarding Savage his eighth caution this season following the latest show of theatrical nonsense from the Welshman.

An unmarked Nelsen found himself on the end of Morten Gamst Pedersen's inviting free-kick three yards out early in the second half. The net should have rippled. Instead the advertising boards shuddered, as did many of a modest 14,710 crowd, at the thought of overtime.

Nelsen's apologetic header made Southgate's ham-fisted attempts - the Boro captain stabbing a shot wide from six yards shortly before the interval - appear almost forgivable.

Had Southgate's chance fallen to Yakubu, it might have been a different story. The Nigerian striker was a threat all night, and came inches from applying a finishing touch to Johnson's driven cross early in the second half in a game which failed to generate as many clear-cut chances as might have been expected from such a flowing encounter.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Bates ( Parnaby, h-t), Riggott, Southgate, Pogatetz; Johnson (Maccarone, 70), Doriva, Boateng (Queudrue, 83), Rochemback; Yakubu, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Ehiogu.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2) Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Gray; Bentley (Reid, 90), Tugay, Savage, Pedersen (Emerton, 68); Kuqi, Dickov. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Khizanishvili, Thompson.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).