Blackburn returned to the top half of the Sky Bet Championship table as Joe Rothwell’s second-half strike secured a 1-0 win at Middlesbrough.
Tony Mowbray enjoyed a successful return to the Riverside, although his side benefited from a controversial refereeing decision as they claimed their second win of 2021.
Jarrad Branthwaite escaped unpunished despite kicking Middlesbrough defender Dael Fry in the face in the 14th minute, and while Boro went close when Nathan Wood hit the post, they were unable to make their superiority for much of the game count.
Rothwell’s conversion of Harvey Elliott’s pull-back settled things, although the pivotal moment of the afternoon came in the opening quarter-of-an-hour.
Fry went up to try to win a header as Paddy McNair floated a cross into the box, but the Middlesbrough centre-half was kicked in the face by Branthwaite as the Blackburn defender attempted to clear.
Branthwaite’s boot clearly connected with Fry’s face, drawing a large amount of blood, but to the obvious anger of Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock, referee Dean Whitestone failed to award a spot-kick. Had he done so, he would almost certainly have had to follow it up with a straight red card.
To rub further salt into Middlesbrough’s wounds, Fry was unable to continue despite a lengthy bout of treatment, forcing Warnock to turn to inexperienced youngster Wood.
Boro were on the front foot for the majority of the first half, and almost claimed the lead shortly before the half-hour mark.
Britt Assombalonga fired in a direct free-kick from close to the edge of the area, and Blackburn goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski did well to turn the ball over the crossbar.
From the resultant corner, Blackburn’s defenders could only clear the ball to Sam Morsy, but the Middlesbrough midfielder dragged a low shot wide of the right-hand post.
Boro went close again when the Rovers defence struggled to clear another corner on the stroke of half-time. Marc Bola drilled in a low shot from 25 yards, but while George Saville stabbed out a foot to try to wrong-foot Kaminski, his effort whistled just wide of the upright.
Blackburn’s only first-half chance came to nothing when Adam Armstrong failed to find the target with an early effort from the edge of the area, and Boro’s dominance continued at the start of the second half as Kaminski produced a fine save to turn Marcus Tavernier’s goal-bound low strike around the post.
The home side came within inches of opening the scoring on the hour mark, but after Kaminski clawed away Assombalonga’s header from a corner, Wood fired a follow-up effort against the post.
It proved a crucial miss, as Blackburn opened the scoring against the run of play three minutes later. Elliott’s one-two with Armstrong unlocked the Middlesbrough defence and, after the midfielder cut the ball back into the area, an unmarked Rothwell was left with the simple task of slotting home.
Armstrong almost added a second goal with a chipped shot that was saved by Marcus Bettinelli, and the Championship’s joint-leading goalscorer wasted another good opportunity when he side-footed over with six minutes left.