Gallagher fires Blackburn into Champ top-two

Blackburn climbed into the Sky Bet Championship automatic promotion places after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Middlesbrough on Monday night.

An entertaining encounter between two of the promotion frontrunners – which was delayed for nine minutes midway through the second half due to a medical emergency – was settled by Sam Gallagher’s sixth goal of the season, which was aided by Paddy McNair’s mis-kick (76).

Tony Mowbray’s side move above Bournemouth into second-place as a result of their eighth league win in 10 games – despite having played one game more than the Cherries.

Meanwhile, Middlesbrough – who have dropped just seven points since Chris Wilder was appointed on November 7 – remain seventh, two points outside the play-off places, with a game in hand.

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Blackburn’s Sam Gallagher gave his side a 1-0 lead over Middlesbrough in the Sky Bet Championship after capitalising on a defensive mistake by Paddy McNair.

How a narrow win saw Blackburn climb again

Without leading goalscorer Ben Brereton Diaz – who is on international duty with Chile until early February – there were questions as to where Blackburn’s attacking threat was going to come from against one of the division’s form sides, but while Boro’s Joe Lumley was seldom tested, the chances came at regular intervals.

A quick reaction from the goalkeeper prevented Matt Crooks inadvertently turning the ball into his own net after an attempt to block off Jan Paul van Hecke at a corner, before John Buckley had a shot charged down and Reda Khadra whipped a fierce free-kick over from 20 yards.

Image: Blackburn have moved into the top two following victory

If that wasn’t enough, Mowbray’s men restricted their opponents to a grand total of zero shots throughout the first 45 minutes, despite their at times overwhelming, possessional dominance.

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But right before the break, there was a contentious moment when young Middlesbrough wing-back Isaiah Jones was brought down by Tayo Edun in the penalty area. Jones did his best to stay on his feet, however, perhaps helping referee Darren England decide not to award a penalty.

Middlesbrough gained momentum after the break and were denied twice in quick succession, when Aaron Connolly saw a shot charged down moments before Matt Crooks’ close-range header was headed off the line by a perfectly-placed Lewis Travis.

The game was halted for nine minutes midway through the second half due to a medical emergency in the crowd, which was rapidly responded to by both the stewards and the medical staff of both teams.

Shortly after proceedings did get back under way, Gallagher scored what proved to be the winner. After Boro tried and failed to clear a corner on two occasions, a mis-kick from McNair allowed the ball to run for the striker, who wasted no time in firing a clinical effort into the bottom left corner.

Chris Wilder threw on Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun and Duncan Watmore to beef up the visitors’ attack in the closing stages, but it was Crooks again who had the final chance, leaping to meet a ball in from the right and steering another free header over the bar.

Man of the match – Sam Gallagher

Sky Sports’ Don Goodman on Sky Sports Football:

„I don’t just think it was his goal tonight. His all-round game was excellent, along with his effort and energy. But that was a big goal for Blackburn.“

What the managers said…

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Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray praised his young side for standing up to Middlesbrough in the 1-0 victory as Rovers moved up to second in the Sky Bet Championship.

Blackburn’s Tony Mowbray: „We had five academy players playing and it was a really young team. I ask them every week to go out there and grow up as men, which you have to do against Middlesbrough. You know when you play any Middlesbrough team, you have to bring your sword and shield and fight because they are coming for you – and we did tonight.

„I thought, first half, we were good. We put them on the back foot and under pressure. They have not done what they have done in the league without having some good moments themselves and in the second half they forced us back and maybe could have scored. But it was a brilliant goal from Gallagher. Brereton is getting all the plaudits, of course, but Sam has had a few injuries and missed a few matches, so his goals-per-game rate isn’t bad.

„We’re just delighted to get the points off the back of a defeat. It is really important to bounce back and we did that tonight.“

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Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder claims they deserved nothing from the Blackburn game due to the lack of physicality and aggression that his side showed throughout the game. 
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Middlesbrough’s Chris Wilder: „In my opinion, the first half was all them. We never started or got out of the traps. The fundamental things you need to do to win a game of football are first and second balls, be ready for a press, show quality in possession and we didn’t show any of those qualities from the first minute to the 45th, 46th minute.

„We had a little bit of a reaction after half time, but that the guy in the crowd is safe and well is the biggest thing tonight. From a footballing point of view, it shouldn’t really need to be a reaction after half time. This is a top-end Championship game and I’ll take the responsibility because maybe I didn’t get that into my players enough. I thought we had enough experience in our changing room to recognise that. There were, obviously, a few lively words at half time from myself and the coaching staff, which got us going.

„There was an improvement, but I think I would be saying the same things if we had got a draw or taken one of the chances we had at the end. Blackburn fully deserved the result and their players go away with a big three points.“

What’s next?

Both teams are back in action at 3pm on Saturday January 29. Blackburn travel to Kenilworth Road to take on Luton, while Middlesbrough host Coventry at the Riverside Stadium.