Docked three points after their non-attendance at Blackburn in December, Bryan Robson's team not only turned up at the Riverside last night but made Rovers emphatically feel their presence. Chris Sutton's 68th-minute header was not enough to overcome the damage done by Juninho as Middlesbrough weighed anchor from the foot of the Premiership table.
The Blackburn fans wasted no time in enquiring: "Where were you at Ewood Park ?" And the Middlesbrough defence was conspicuously absent in the early stages, notably when Jason Wilcox was allowed to ghost into the home area and Kevin Gallacher was guilty of missing the kind of sitter that would have had his great grandfather - the Celtic goalscoring legend Patsy Gallacher - turning with shame in his Glasgow grave.
But, with two minutes of the first-half remaining, Juninho's stamped his world class mark indelibly on the game. Breaking on the counter-attack, he combined on a right-wing raid with Fabrizio Ravanelli and Phil Stamp before swerving round Jeff Kenna and producing an impudent finish, deftly clipping the ball over the advancing Tim Flowers.
It was sheer brilliance, befitting the European stage on which Robson's legionnaires may get their chance to shine next season. They may yet be combining day trips to Grimsby with excursions to Barcelona next season but the victory secured by another flash of Juninho inspiration will help to avert the prospect of the former.
The threaded through ball which split the Blackburn defence was a open invitation for Ravanelli to claim his 26th goal of the season. The Italian duly obliged, nutmegging Flowers with his shot from the left edge of the area.
Middlesbrough (4-3-1-2): Schwarzer; Cox, Pearson, Festa, Blackmore; Hignett, Emerson, Stamp; Juninho; Beck, Ravanelli (Moore, 75). Substitutes not used: Vickers, Fleming, Liddle, Roberts (gk).
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Berg, Hendry, Le Saux; Sherwood, McKinlay (Donis, 80), Flitcroft, Wilcox; Gallacher, Pedersen (Sutton, 54). Substitutes not used: Marker, Warhurst, Given (gk).
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).