DAMIEN Johnson was disappointed to see Rovers Under-23s' winning start to the season come to an end, but admits there were positives to take from the display.

The Rovers youngsters were beaten 3-1 by Middlesbrough at Ewood Park on Monday evening, despite taking the lead through Joe Rankin-Costello’s fifth goal of the season.

They dominated the game for large spells, creating numerous good chances, but fell to their first defeat of the season as Boro scored with their first three attempts on goal.

Rovers, who had won their opening three league games, and knocked an experienced Wigan side out of the Lancashire Senior Cup, ended the game with 10 men when Joe Grayson received a straight red card for kicking out after a coming together in the middle of the pitch.

Of the defeat, Johnson said: “It will be a good learning experience for us.

“It’s one of those games where you have done okay and created lots of opportunities in terms of crosses and final third entries and they have had three chances and scored three goals.

“We have got to be better in terms of our organisation when we don’t have the ball and a little bit more clinical.

“For all our final third entries I didn’t feel that we tested their goalkeeper enough.

“That is the disappointing thing and to become more clinical and ruthless though.”

Rankin-Costello handed Rovers a 15th minute lead, sweeping home a Lewis Travis cross, while Willem Tomlinson, Joe Nuttall and Stefan Mols all went close to doubling that advantage.

But Rovers were pegged back on the half hour when George Armstrong levelled, firing the ball home off the post as the hosts failed to clear their lines as Boro pressed forward for the first time.

George Miller gave Boro the lead shortly after the re-start with an excellent 25 yard effort which looped over Andrew Fisher, before Lewis Wing scored a solo effort in added time.

And Johnson added: “We have been together a while now, they are comfortable in the system and there is a confidence about them.

“We started well, deserved the goal and we had some chances and could have been 2-0 or 3-0 up on another night.

“But the reality for those lads is that it’s always going to be the case, you need to make sure that no matter how dominant in possession you are that you keep the back door shut.

“That is the lesson for the young defenders and us as a team.

“Even going 2-1 down we responded well, showed some good character to keep going and kept asking questions.

“On another night one of those might have gone in and we’re then committing men forward, leaving ourselves more exposed towards the end but I think you have to try and do that in terms of getting back in to the game.”

Rovers will look to get back to winning ways when they travel to Norwich City on Sunday, and Johnson said: “They have won three games, they have had a lot of nice things said about them, it’s going to be a good test how they respond to that.

“We had a little setback and the thing for me is can we learn from it and go again on Sunday.

“That’s what we’ll be looking to do.”

One positive for Rovers at the start of the season has been the form of 18-year-old Joe Rankin-Costello.  The attacker continued his impressive start to the campaign with another goal, which means he has already now eclipsed last season’s tally.

“He’s always had that threat about him without getting too many goals,” Johnson said.

“I think he got four overall last season and that’s his fifth now.

“When you’re playing in those positions it’s about end product, assists and goals and he’s getting goals.
“We still think there’s more to come from him in terms of his general play so we’ll keep challenging him and pushing him but he’s certainly getting goals which is good.”