Middlesbrough 0 Blackburn Rovers 2: Kuqi steals in to make McClaren the villain in Boro's pantomime

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The club's followers have become rather adept at shunning McClaren's rallying calls, and now it appears his players are following suit. While fans have steadfastly refused to heed pleas from the Middlesbrough manager to turn out in force for midweek cup-ties, his team patently blanked his demand for a much-improved performance five days after Blackburn claimed a Carling Cup semi-final place against them.

At the death, Rovers' small but perfectly formed band of support were asking "Can we play you every week?", which at the moment they are, and quite profitably so. For the hosts, familiarity did not so much breed contempt, more ineptitude.

Sheki Kuqi profited with goals in either half to seal a fully merited victory for the visitors, who once again unsettled Middlesbrough with their intense approach.

After his belated appearance in the technical area was greeted by jeers, it is safe to assume the hour delay in McClaren's post-match press conference was not due to his path being impeded by autograph hunters.

He said: "Once they scored you could see the anxiety and our confidence seeped away. In our current spell you have to score first."

Stating the blindingly obvious, he added: "We're in a spell where we can't score, and we can't keep a clean sheet. We seem to have one of these spells each season."

Yakubu Aiyegbeni set the tone inside 70 seconds, heading a deflected Mark Viduka cross over when unmarked only three yards from goal.

Gaizka Mendieta, back though clearly not match-fit after a lengthy absence because of injury, ensured Yakubu had plenty of company in comedy corner.

The Nigerian, who had little competition in being Middlesbrough's most effective performer, muscled his way past Andy Todd to cut back an inviting low ball. No more than 10 yards out, Mendieta's shot was still rising when it thudded into Row F.

Middlesbrough have now gone five Premership games without victory and the miss summed up their travails perfectly. "We'll come through this spell," McClaren insisted. "It's where you end up, not where you are after 18 games but we've got to make sure it doesn't become a really big issue."

Blackburn took the lead seven minutes before the interval when Brett Emerton swung over a routine cross from the left which both Mark Schwarzer and Gareth Southgate could and should have dealt with. Instead, both proved adept in abdicating responsibility, allowing Kuqi to steal in unannounced to head into an unguarded net as the embarrassed duo began to apportion blame, with the goalkeeper slightly more culpable than his captain.

Kuqi's sixth goal of the season sealed only Blackburn's second Premiership away win of the season with 11 minutes remaining.

Craig Bellamy, on as a late substitute, created the opening, with a deft cut in and shot from the left which Schwarzer kept out, only for Kuqi to dispatch the loose ball from close range.

"We've had a decent return here over the two games, exactly what we wanted," Mark Hughes, the Blackburn manager, said. "We expected a response from Boro but we withstood what they threw at us and were good value in the end. We set our targets high, and I've said to the players let's get into the top 10 and then see what happens."

Goals: Kuqi (38) 0-1; Kuqi (79) 0-2.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Southgate, Riggott, Queudrue; Parnaby, Rochemback (Johnson, 61), Mendieta (Hasselbaink, 78), Doriva (Kennedy, 78), Pogatetz; Yakubu, Viduka. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Bates.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Khizanishvili, Todd (Mokoena, 57), Nelsen, Gray; Thompson (Reid, 74), Tugay, Savage, Emerton; Bentley (Bellamy, 68), Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Peter.

Referee: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Middlesbrough Mendieta, Riggott, Queudrue, Hasselbaink; Blackburn Khizanishvili, Emerton.

Man of the match: Kuqi.

Attendance: 29,881.

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