Blackburn Rovers 0 Middlesbrough 1: Boro overcome their defensive setbacks

Middlesbrough's John Obi Mikel jumps for the ball with  Blackburn Rovers' Harrison Reed (Picture: Ian Hodgson/PA Wire).
Middlesbrough's John Obi Mikel jumps for the ball with Blackburn Rovers' Harrison Reed (Picture: Ian Hodgson/PA Wire).
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Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis wants his side to be more ruthless, but was pleased with the response to a defensive reshuffle in their win against 10-man Blackburn Rovers.

Boro kept their first clean sheet of 2019 in the absence of the injured Aden Flint and suspended Daniel Ayala, while fellow defender George Friend was forced off just after the hour mark.

Britt Assombalonga’s 19th-minute close-range header – his third goal in the last four games – settled yesterday’s clash with Rovers, who had Derrick Williams dismissed on the stroke of half-time.

Pulis said: “We’re pleased. We had 26 shots on goal and only scored one goal and that’s really been our Achilles’ heel since I’ve been at the football club.

“We’ve got to be more ruthless in front of goal. At times we played really well, controlled the game, created chances. And when you think of the circumstances – losing Flinty, losing Ayala, then George having to come off – we needed to dig in and work together as a group and that’s what they did.

“Fair play to Blackburn. They worked very hard.

“We’ve had a couple of days to work and talk about it, and you have to get on with things at times. You can’t be bemoaning injuries, suspensions and the run of the ball, which haven’t gone for us.

“You can get a little bit down on yourself, but they’ve shown great character. We wanted to be positive here.”

Blackburn have lost back-to-back home league games for the first time since December 2016.

After seeing Rovers lose to Boro for the first time since 2012, manager Tony Mowbray criticised his team’s first-half performance. He said: “I couldn’t recognise my team first half. I’ve been here two years next week and I don’t know where that came from to be honest. I said to them at half-time that it’s an unrecognisable football team from the one I see week-in, week-out.

“We lacked fire, desire and energy. Win, lose or draw, we have more fight and desire and quality than we showed in the first half. Second half was better.

“You’re playing against a decent team. With 11 men, I think we’d have given it a better go second half.”

Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Bennett, Rodwell (Nyambe 46), Mulgrew, Williams, Evans (Travis 46), Reed, Brereton (Bell 46), Dack, Armstrong, Graham. Unused substitutes: Smallwood, Leutwiler, Nuttall, Conway.

Middlesbrough: Randolph, Fry, Shotton, Friend (McNair 61), Howson, Mikel, Besic (Downing 73), Saville, Wing, Fletcher (Hugill 81), Assombalonga. Unused substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Clayton, Tavernier, van La Parra.

Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).