ROVERS Under-23s were beaten for the first time this season as they lost 3-1 against Middlesbrough Under-23s at Ewood Park, writes Sam Jones.

Joe Rankin-Costello gave Rovers the lead in the first-half before Middlesbrough hit back through Luke Armstrong and then won the game courtesy of a fantastic strike by George Miller. Lewis Wing added gloss to the score line late on, but the result was very harsh on Rovers, who deserved at least a draw. 

Rovers had three league wins out of three going into this top of the table clash against the Teesiders – who were also out to maintain a 100 per cent record in Premier League 2. 

Damien Johnson’s men came into this game off the back of an impressive performance against Wigan Athletic, which saw them progress to the second round of the Lancashire FA Senior Cup. 

It was a positive start from Rovers, who were on the front foot from the first whistle. And there was an early claim for a penalty when Stefan Mols went down in the area, but only a corner was given. 

Rovers could have scored from the resulting corner as Joe Grayson played a quick one-two before crossing for Willem Tomlinson at the far post, whose shot was blocked.

Damien Johnson’s side kept up the pressure in the opening stages. Joe Nuttall, who has six goals already this season, headed wide from Lewis Travis’ cross soon after. 

Rovers made the breakthrough a quarter of an hour in when Travis crossed for Rankin-Costello, who finished off a slick Rovers passing move with a sided footed finish for his fifth goal of the season in all competitions. 

Grayson’s free-kick evaded everyone and would have crept in the far post had Boro ‘keeper Aynsley Pears not tipped it round the post. 

The home side continued to play good football and their latest chance fell the way of Nuttall, but his strike from the edge of the area failed to test Pears. 

Travis then combined well with Mols on the right, who took on his man and created space for a shot that went just wide. 

It took Middlesbrough over half an hour to create their first opportunity – and it was a scoring one. After good work from George Miller, the ball fell to Luke Armstrong in the box and the Boro striker made no mistake with a thumping first time effort which cannoned off the post and into the top corner to draw the visitors level.

Rovers should have been further ahead before they were pegged back and they continued to push forward. After another good run down the right Travis found Nuttall – whose shot was comfortably saved by Pears. 

Rovers restarted as they had ended the first period as Costello went forward and fed Nuttall, but the in-form Rovers striker dragged his shot wide. 

But Rovers were behind five minutes into the second half as the ball bounced up kindly for Miller, who hit a looping effort that caught Fisher off his line and went straight in from 35 yards out.  

Damien Johnson’s men looked for an immediate response and Jack Doyle crossed for Nuttall, but his effort sailed over the bar. 

Nuttall then tried to turn provider as he played a quick one-two with Mols before showing a turn of pace to get to the by line and cut it back, but James Cook was on hand to make a last ditch clearance and prevent Doyle scoring a tap in. 

Doyle soon whipped another inviting cross into the area, but Rankin-Costello was unable to keep his header down. Mols’ cross found Nuttall again, whose looping header landed on the roof of the net. 

Boro caught Rovers on the break and Marcus Tavernier played through Miller, but he dragged his shot wide from a tight angle. 

Some nice build up play from Blackburn ended with substitute Lewis Mansell seeing his powerful effort diverted out for a corner.  Grayson delivered the resulting set piece but the unmarked Matthew Platt could only header over the bar. 

Middlesbrough exploited the growing space in the final few minutes, as Miller raced through on goal and looked certain to score before Jack Doyle made a couple of superb blocks to deny him, and then Lewis Wing inside the area. 

Connor Malley forced a diving save out of the largely untroubled Andrew Fisher, before Middlesbrough made the game safe two minutes into injury time. Wing turned Tomlinson in the corner before striding towards goal and slotting the ball into the corner. 

The night ended on a sour note for Rovers as Joe Grayson was shown a straight red card for kicking out at Armstrong after the ball had gone. 

Rovers U23s will look to get back to winning ways when they make the trip to Carrow Road to face Norwich City U23s this Sunday (2pm). 

ROVERS: Fisher (GK), C. Doyle (Mansell 75 mins), J. Doyle, Tomlinson, Platt, Grayson, Travis, Hardcastle (c) (Wright 89 mins), Nuttall, Mols, Rankin-Costello.

Subs not used: Albinson (GK), Thomson, Wright, Paton.