Middlesbrough 0 Blackburn Rovers 1: Nonda threatens Southgate's fledgling career

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The Independent Football

At the end of a week where football's finances have come under scrutiny, the only thing bunged-up in Middlesbrough will be the radio show phone-ins, congested with supporters quick to offer advice to Gareth Southgate. On the evidence of a flaccid display that leaves his side without a win in five games, during which time they have scored only once, it is safe to assume most of that advice will not be of the constructive variety.

"It's the first time I've had to question my players' attitude," admitted the Middlesbrough manager, fully aware that in the over-hyped world of the Premiership, his side's current run, which includes a Carling Cup defeat by Notts County of League Two, is hardly job-enhancing.

Southgate failed to help his cause by stationing James Morrison in an unfamiliar role on the left flank, in addition to fielding a midfield trio of Jason Euell, Gaizka Mendieta and Fabio Rochemback, none of whom have developed reputations for their tackling abilities. For Robbie Savage, Christmas came early.

"I'm judged on a game-to-game basis, which is difficult," Southgate added. "Every decision I make is questioned, but whatever system I'd chosen, with the attitude we showed in the first half, we'd have been behind. The manner of defeat is disappointing. It's not the way I expect us to play and we left ourselves with a mountain to climb, we were sloppy."

Middlesbrough posed more of a threat after the break, but only because they could not get much worse after surrendering a soft first-half goal by Shabani Nonda, Blackburn's Congolese striker. The winning intervention owed little to intricate build-up and more to the kind of searching cross forwards ought to thrive on, delivered by David Bentley, stationed on the right flank.

Nonda, opening his account on his first Blackburn start following a loan move from Roma, met the centre to perfection as he easily out-jumped Andrew Davies at the far post with a header into the top corner from five yards. It was his side's first away goal in the League this season.

"I'm really pleased for Shabani," Mark Hughes, the Blackburn manager, said. "His career's stalled somewhat because of injuries, but he'll get fitter and stronger and it was a great towering header for the goal." Yakubu, with a 25-yard drive across the face of goal, and Mark Viduka, again confined to the bench, with a header, came close as Boro rallied late, but a draw would have flattered the hosts.

Only a fine one-handed save at the death from Mark Schwarzer to deny Brett Emerton, a summer target for Southgate, deprived Blackburn of a more emphatic victory their dominance merited. "We were excellent from start to finish," added Hughes. "We controlled the tempo and some of our movement was as good as we've seen this year, we created problems for them all day long."

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