Nu­gent strikes as Rhodes waits to face former club

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Gary Stonehouse

AI­TOR Karanka re­fused to be too down­beat af­ter watch­ing his Mid­dles­brough side strug­gle to earn a point at home to Black­burn.

Af­ter spend­ing £9mil­lion on striker Jor­dan Rhodes on dead­line day, the Boro boss kept his new man on the bench for much of a frus­trat­ing af­ter­noon at the River­side.

It looked as though Rovers were go­ing to pull off a smash-and-grab vic­tory af­ter Jordi Gomez’s late de­but goal, but Karanka had David Nu­gent to thank for earn­ing his side a draw.

“The main thing for me was the last 20 min­utes,” said the Boro boss.

“For the over 70 min­utes we did not play with our usual in­ten­sity and they wanted it more than us. We have to get back to play­ing with that in­ten­sity for the full 90 min­utes.

“When they scored their goal they then de­cided to de­fend so that gave us more chances to at­tack.

“The Boro fans just have to look at the ta­ble.We are sec­ond in the ta­ble when two years ago we were just above the rel­e­ga­tion zone.

“We’ve brought in five re­ally good play­ers and that should mo­ti­vate the squad.”

Many thought the script was writ­ten pre-match for Rhodes to score the de­but goal against the club that sold him, but he had to wait un­til late on to get his first taste of Boro ac­tion from the bench.

Af­ter a tepid open­ing to the en­counter the vis­i­tors had the ball in the net on 17 min­utes.

Gomez, signed this week from Sun­der­land, whipped in a free-kick and El­liot Ward flicked the ball past Dimi Kon­stan­topou­los, but Boro were saved by the lines­man’s off­side flag.

Even that scare failed to kick the home side into life as they strug­gled to mount an of­fense.

Spa­niard Kike Sola was the man trusted to part­ner David Nu­gent up front for Boro, but de­spite plenty of ef­fort, it just was not hap­pen­ing for the striker and his de­but was cut short when he was re­placed at the break.

With a lack of cut­ting edge up top, Boro were re­ly­ing on their de­fence to stand firm. Even that suf­fered a blow, though, as Daniel Ay­ala was forced off with an an­kle in­jury prior to half-time.

The clos­est we came to an

opener through­out a dull first 45 min­utes came from Black­burn’s Gomez, but his ef­fort was de­flected wide.

Cristhian Stu­ani was in­tro­duced at the break but the hosts were still strug­gling to cre­ate any­thing and they looked to set for a dis­ap­point­ing af­ter­noon when Gomez struck with a low drive from 20 yards with 18 min­utes left.

But Nu­gent was on hand to level the pro­ceed­ings with Boro’s first ef­fort on tar­get six min­utes later. Emilio Nsue’s cross found the striker at the back post as he headed home.

Rhodes had been in­tro­duced by this point, but his only in­volve­ment was a long dis­tance shot that was eas­ily col­lected by Rovers keeper Ja­son Steele.

Hope Ak­pan then could have nicked it for the away side with two min­utes to go, but he dragged a shot wide when the ball fell to him on the edge of the area.

De­spite see­ing his side pegged back, Rovers man­ager Paul Lam­bert was de­lighted with the ef­forts of his men, and he re­served spe­cial praise for his back­line.

Lam­bert said: “Some of the foot­ball that we played was ex­cel­lent. They are a re­ally good side but we played well.

“The back four were very im­pres­sive – they were very com­posed. I thought they were fairly un­trou­bled and played well.

“I think that this re­sult shows ex­actly what we are ca­pa­ble of.We just have to pro­duce this level of per­for­mance week in and week out now.

“We have a lot of good foot­ballers and it is up to us to sus­tain that level.

“The con­fi­dence is good and we are un­beaten in four, so we are do­ing OK.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

OLD BOY: Mid­dles­brough’s Jor­dan Rhodes cel­e­brates David Nu­gent’s goal against his former club

FLY­ING START: Jordi Gomez hit the opener on his Black­burn de­but

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