BLACKBURN ROVERS 1, MIDDLESBROUGH 0
With goal machine Ben Brereton Diaz away on international duty, Sam Gallagher could not have timed it better to end his Blackburn Rovers scoring drought.
The 26-year-old striker, who had not found the net for three months, was the matchwinner against Middlesbrough at Ewood Park as Rovers climbed to second place in the Championship
These are heady days for Rovers who are trying to regain their Premier League status which was lost in 2012.
They have lost only once in 12 league games – ironically the run began after a 7-0 home defeat by Fulham – as they leapfrogged AFC Bournemouth into second spot.
And it was a huge win for Rovers against Boro who suffered only a second defeat in the 11 games since Chris Wilder became manager when victory would have lifted them into the play-off spot.
In what was an often feisty clash, there were 10 bookings, six for Boro and four for Rovers and there was even 14 minutes of added time in the second period after play was halted when a fan was taken ill.Embed from Getty Images
Rovers’ manager Tony Mowbray praised his side, explaining: “We had five academy players in a very young side, and I asked them to grow as men.
“When you play Boro, you need to bring your sword and shield and to fight. And we played like men.
“I was delighted with the win after the defeat and the way we bounced back.”
There was praise for Gallagher as Mowbray continued: “It was a great goal from Gallagher. Brereton Diaz has been getting the plaudits, but he has six goals in a season hit by injury and has done well for us.”
Mowbray added his side will need to win between seven and 10 of their remaining matches to seriously challenge for promotion.
“We will lose matches, and everyone will write us off, but we have to bounce back when that happens,” he said.
Wilder was critical of his side’s first-half display which was addressed at the break.
He said: “We should not have needed a reaction as this was a top end Championship match.
“They fully deserved the win, congratulations to Tony. They got three big points.
“Maybe it was our mentality towards the game. We had been on a decent run and getting plaudits while they were missing a couple of key players.
“You need attitude and competitiveness before you do the nice and poncy bits and technical stuff.
“We missed a couple of chances late on. Had we drawn or got a smash-and-grab win I would have been saying the same things.
“It was a big step backwards. We have to rub ourselves down and go again.”
Rovers were without 20 goal leading marksman Brereton Diaz who was away with Chile.
Also absent were Joe Rothwell, Harry Pickering, Tyrhys Dolan and Dilan Markanday while Joseph Rankin-Costello dropped to the bench.
He was replaced by defender Ryan Nyambe with Lewis Travis and Bradley Johnson returning and there was a place in the squad for loanee Dayovaisio Zeefuik.
Boro, by contrast, were unchanged from their last match, a 2-1 home win against Reading.
It was an unusual opening as Boro enjoyed almost two thirds possession, but had only one goal attempt to Rovers’ 11, though they rarely looked like scoring.
Gallagher had a couple of decent efforts which were easily saved, Brighton loanee Reda Khadra went close with a free kick and Jan Paul Van Hecke almost bundled in the ball from Gallagher’s header.
Boro were more of a threat after the restart and almost snatched the lead in the 63rd minute.
Brighton loan player Aaron Connolly had a shot deflected narrowly wide and from the resulting corner Matt Crooks’ header was cleared off the line by Lewis Travis.
The game was halted for eight minutes following a medical emergency in the main stand with referee Darren England, having been alerted, immediately suspending play.
The stoppage knocked Boro out of their stride as soon after play resumed Rovers took a 76th minute lead.
Boro will be unhappy with their defending having two chances to clear the danger after a corner as Tayo Edun set up Gallagher who took a touch before firing low past goalkeeper Joe Lumley for his sixth goal of the season as a barren spell came to an end.
Boro had chances to equalise in 14 minutes of added time to equalise.
Connolly blazed over from a great position and in the 113rd minute Matt Crooks unbelievably saw a diving header clear the bar from three yards.