Middlesbrough held by Blackburn

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.

A slew of Simon Eastwood saves and the woodwork denied Middlesbrough a spot in the Sky Bet Championship’s top two as they drew 0-0 at Blackburn.

With Ipswich and Derby not in action, Aitor Karanka’s men knew three points at Ewood Park would send them back into the automatic promotion spots, yet they encountered frustration in their second draw with Rovers in 30 days.

Eastwood, who was only playing because Boro loanee Jason Steele was unable to feature against his parent club, brilliantly denied Jelle Vossen and Adam Reach in the first period, while the frame of his goal prevented Kike and Patrick Bamford from giving the visitors victory late on.

Karanka was again left reflecting on two points dropped.

“It should be three,” he admitted.

“Again, it’s the same story when we play against Blackburn. I’ve been here for one year and we have played against them three times and three times the man of the match was the keeper. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence.

“We’ve not had a lot of chances and haven’t played much better than them but we’ve had three or four clear chances to score today.

“This season it was Eastwood, last season it was (Paul) Robinson, but it was our mistakes, not just the keeper. The keeper is in the goal to save the ball but it was our mistakes today.”

Back-up stopper Eastwood was given the chance to impress in Steele’s absence and he was called upon early and often.

Reach capitalised on a weak back-pass from Lee Williamson and – after the Boro winger’s heavy touch towards goal – Eastwood timed his surge out perfectly to nullify the danger.

Ben Marshall then went close on two occasions at the other end, heading over from a Craig Conway corner before seeing a fine free-kick turned around the post by Dimi Konstantopoulos.

It was Konstantopoulos who Middlesbrough thought was fouled when Blackburn gained a draw in the reverse fixture last month thanks to a late Rudy Gestede leveller.

The two met in the air in his six-yard box again here and the keeper’s weak punch went straight to Jordan Rhodes, who nodded a looping header on to the top of the crossbar.

However, Eastwood remained the busier of the two keepers and only a pair of brilliant stops kept the game scoreless at the break.

The former Portsmouth man first pushed Vossen’s first-time effort on to the woodwork after Shane Duffy gifted possession to Kike on a breakaway Boro attack.

And moments later Eastwood produced heroics again to somehow shovel Reach’s back-post header off his own line after the hosts had once more lost the ball deep in their own half.

Rovers asked questions of Konstantopoulos early in the second half, with Alex Baptiste and substitute Tom Cairney both testing him from range.

But Eastwood continued to shine too as he beat away a Kike effort with one hand after Grant Leadbitter’s sumptuous volleyed pass had found the Spaniard.

Karanka introduced Bamford and fellow attacker Lee Tomlin from the bench and the former was denied a penalty when Grant Hanley shrugged him off, although the loanee’s appeals were more in hope than expectation.

Chances were becoming increasingly sparse and Conway’s well-hit drive from distance was always swerving the wrong side of the post.

Eastwood was finally beaten when Kike’s curling attempt came back off the post with 12 minutes to go, but Bamford sent the rebound on to the top of the crossbar with an open goal in front of him.

The home crowd sensed a repeat of the Riverside drama when Blackburn got a stoppage-time corner, but this time Gestede’s header was turned off the line by Leadbitter.