Blackburn 2-1 Middlesbrough: Aitor Karanka's side miss chance to go top
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 01/03/16 10:19pm
Blackburn prevented Middlesbrough from going top of the Sky Bet Championship as a pair of Boro old boys outshone Jordan Rhodes on his Ewood Park return.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche and Hull manager Steve Bruce were present to see the team that could have moved above them in the table stumble to a 2-1 loss against Paul Lambert's side.
Hope Akpan's header early in the second half was added to by a goal from former Boro striker Danny Graham while goalkeeper Jason Steele, who came through the ranks at the Riverside, played a starring role in denying Rhodes on multiple occasions and only shipped one goal late on to Adam Forshaw.
Lambert had argued in the build-up to this clash that his side were a "stronger unit" since selling Rhodes to Middlesbrough for £9million in January, even though he scored 85 goals in 169 appearances for the club.
Rhodes started on the bench against Fulham at the weekend but given his habit of scoring against old employers, it was no surprise to see Aitor Karanka promote him to the starting line-up.
What was more shocking was Rovers captain Grant Hanley's loose back pass in the seventh minute when Rhodes was on his heels.
The Scotland international latched on to the ball and attempted to knock it to the side of goalkeeper Steele, only for the 'keeper to scoop it away from his former team-mate.
Neither team grabbed hold of the game in the first period as the rain lashed down, Tony Watt's volley over and Darragh Lenihan's skimming shot at Dimi Konstantopoulos from distance the only efforts the hosts mustered.
However, just one minute and 34 seconds after the restart, they made the breakthrough.
Swansea loanee Matt Grimes' brilliant cross from the left was met by Akpan's head six yards out and he directed the ball back across Konstantopoulos for the opening goal.
That lead was almost thrown away within four minutes, though, as Rhodes bore down on goal once more, with Steele again standing up to the test to repel him on two occasions.
Middlesbrough had been content to sit back in the first period but Akpan's goal changed all that and Stewart Downing and Forshaw both fired off target from the edge of the box.
Rhodes remained their biggest threat and it needed a brilliant block from Shane Duffy to stop him in the box before the striker got reacquainted with Hanley during a penalty-box tussle.
Substitutes Adam Clayton and Gaston Ramirez were introduced to up the tempo and it worked as David Nugent saw an effort narrowly deflected wide and Duffy was forced to clear a free-kick over his own crossbar.
Rhodes came close again, capitalising on Simeon Jackson's clearance into colleague Ben Marshall to hone in on goal and unleash a shot which Steele did brilliantly to stop going between his legs.
It proved pivotal as Graham doubled the hosts' advantage with seven minutes to go by reaching the diminutive Jackson's flick-on from Steele's clearance.
Forshaw drove in a reply in stoppage time but Boro were unable to find a way past their old academy graduate Steele again.