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Dour draw leaves Boro in trouble

Middlesbrough’s struggles continued on Saturday as Gareth Southgate’s side were held to a 0-0 draw by Blackburn.

The Teesiders are now without a win in 12 matches and this dismal display, which was greeted by jeers from the angry home fans at the Riverside Stadium, will only increase fears that relegation to the Championship is on the cards.

Only goal difference is keeping Southgate’s team ahead of bottom of the table West Brom and there were few signs of an imminent rival in this dour clash against resurgent Blackburn.

Although Rovers remain in the bottom three, Sam Allardyce has masterminded an eight-match unbeaten run that has given the Lancashire club hope of avoiding the drop.

Allardyce recalled Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz despite his attempts to engineer a move to Manchester City, while a host of injuries and suspensions forced Southgate to deploy centre-back Matthew Bates in midfield alongside teenager Josh Walker.

With so many changes and morale already so low it was no surprise that Blackburn were the dominant team early on.

South African forward Benni McCarthy, whose late equaliser rescued Rovers against Bolton in midweek, set his sights on goal from 25 yards but his shot couldn’t beat Brad Jones.

Rovers created a more dangerous opportunity when Morten Gamst Pedersen was presented with a free header from Santa Cruz’s cross, but the winger’s poor first touch let the ball run to safety.

Keith Andrews drew a fine stop from Jones as he lashed in a powerful shot after Emanuel Pogatetz had only half-cleared Pedersen’s long throw.

But it was Rovers who finished the half on top. Vince Grella’s volley was narrowly off-target before Jones saved Santa Cruz’s shot with his feet.

The Boro keeper made an unorthodox save with his feet after Santa Cruz let fly with a swerving 40th-minute shot with the visitors piling on the pressure.

Blackburn suffered a blow after the break when Australia midfielder Brett Emerton limped off.

Middlesbrough were rarely able to exert any consistent pressure but they did have a chance when winger Stewart Downing swung a corner to the near post, where defender Chris Riggott glanced a header just over the bar.

Stephen Warnock fired wide from 25 yards midway through the half and Tugay kept the pressure on with a fine strike that Jones pushed over.

But it was Grella who almost made the breakthrough with a 75th-minute shot which was blocked bravely by Walker.

Jones had to be at his best to turn away Dunn’s 82nd-minute effort and then deny Roberts and Dunn again. The Australian wasn’t finished there and parried another Roberts header in injury time.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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