Blackburn 0-1 Middlesbrough: Britt Assombalonga header sinks 10-man Rovers
By Ben Grounds
Last Updated: 17/02/19 7:05pm
Middlesbrough moved up to fifth in the Sky Bet Championship after Britt Assombalonga's header secured a 1-0 win over 10-man Blackburn at Ewood Park.
Assombalonga headed in from close range after 19 minutes when Ashley Fletcher's shot was deflected into his path.
Rovers, who have now lost four successive league games for the first time since December 2016, were lacklustre in the opening period, and were reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time when Derrick Williams hauled down Fletcher on the edge of the area as the last man.
Blackburn: Raya (6), Bennett (6), Rodwell (4), Mulgrew (5), Williams (4), Evans (4), Reed (6), Brereton (5), Dack (6), Armstrong (6), Graham (6).
Subs: Nyambe (6), Bell (7), Travis (6).
Middlesbrough: Randolph (7), Howson (7), Shotton (7), Fry (7), Friend (6), Saville (7), Mikel (7), Wing (7), Besic (6), Fletcher (7), Assombalonga (8).
Subs: McNair (6), Downing (6), Hugill (5).
Man of the match: Britt Assombalonga.
It was a much-improved second-half display from Tony Mowbray's side with Danny Graham and Bradley Dack both squandering good opportunities to level but they remain 14th in the division as their poor form continued.
The result means Boro are now seven points off second-placed Sheffield United in their quest for automatic promotion, and they were dominant throughout the opening 45 minutes.
Fletcher tested Rovers goalkeeper David Raya with a header after nine minutes from Lewis Wing's cross but there was very little he could do 10 minutes later as Boro converted their possession into a lead.
Tony Mowbray made four changes to the Rovers side that was beaten 2-1 at Reading in midweek. Derrick Williams came in for Amari'i Bell, Harrison Reed replaced Lewis Travis, Bradley Dack took the place of Richie Smallwood and Danny Graham returned up front in place of Craig Conway.
Tony Pulis made three changes to the side that lost 1-0 at Sheffield United. Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Mo Besic replaced Daniel Ayala, Aden Flint and Jordan Hugill.
Charlie Mulgrew misjudged a long ball from Dael Fry allowing Fletcher a clear sight of goal, and while the Rovers captain was able to deflect the striker's shot, the ricochet fell kindly for Assombalonga to head home at the far post.
Matters got worse for Rovers on the stroke of half-time when Mulgrew misjudged another long ball, this time for goalkeeper Darren Randolph, with Williams forced to haul down Fletcher just outside the penalty area.
Referee Darren Bond brandished the red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, but Boro were unable to take advantage of the ensuing free-kick as Wing's shot struck the wall.
Rovers boss Mowbray made a triple substitution at the interval as Jack Rodwell, Ben Brereton and Corry Evans all made way for Lewis Travis, Amari'i Bell and Ryan Nyambe.
But it was Boro who came closest to extending their lead just three minutes after the restart as Wing's dipping shot from distance crashed against the crossbar.
It was only after George Friend hobbled off for the visitors that Bell's influence grew, and it was his cross that very nearly dropped into Randolph's net, clipping the bar on its way out.
The Republic of Ireland stopper should have been beaten moments later as Graham shrugged off the challenge of Ryan Shotton only to blaze over from close range, and Graham then turned provider for Dack, whose shot was brilliantly kept out by Randolph.
Rovers remain 10 points off the play-offs having played two games more than sixth-placed Bristol City.
Tony Mowbray: "I didn't recognise the team first half. I've been here for two years, and I would say that was as bad as we've been in that time. We didn't play forward passes and didn't compete.
"Second half was a lot better even though we had 10 men. We had to make some drastic changes and might have sneaked a draw but I don't think we ultimately deserved anything.
"We'll be back into work tomorrow and try to put things right in the next few games. I didn't recognise the team, and didn't see what they've been bringing for the last two years, but we'll move on and focus on what we're good at."
Tony Pulis: "Always playing late, knowing the results of the day before is tough, and with the injuries we've got, the lads have been very good today. I think the big disappointment is that we created a lot of chances, and we've only scored one goal.
"We've got to turn those opportunities into goals, but I can't fault their efforts. It's been a theme since I've been here and we've lacked that cutting edge. We could've paid for it if Graham sticks it in.
"It's another three points and we move on. We play QPR next Saturday and we know it's going to be a tough game. We've only lost one league game since Boxing Day so this is a nice bounce-back since losing at Sheffield United."
Man of the match - Britt Assombalonga
Middlesbrough have not been outside the top six of the Sky Bet Championship since the opening day of the season, and they showed good character to respond to the midweek defeat at Bramall Lane.
Their victory was thanks to Assombalonga's 10th goal of the season, and Pulis may have stumbled across an effective strike partnership between him and Fletcher due to his current list of injuries.
The former Nottingham Forest front man was full of running throughout, and showed his killer instinct to finish from Fletcher's deflected effort.
He told Sky Sports: "We really needed the three points especially after what happened at Sheffield United. We were talking about what happened between Manchester City and Newport with following shots in as [Phil] Foden could've scored from [Leroy] Sane's shot.
"It's nice playing with Ash and we linked up really well. It's good for him to get the game time. We just have to keep winning now and get the points. There's still plenty of games left so we'll just have to see what happens."
Blackburn travel to face Birmingham at St Andrew's next Saturday while Middlesbrough host QPR on the same day at the Riverside.