Doncaster Rovers 1 Middlesbrough 4

IN many respects Gordon Strachan could do with the transfer deadline being extended, but not in Adam Johnson’s case.

While the Middlesbrough boss continues to pursue different avenues in his attempts to strengthen an injury- ravaged squad, he was given a further reminder of just how important Johnson’s attacking talent is to the Boro cause at Doncaster Rovers last night.

With a long line of scouts queuing up to watch the exciting left-winger at the Keepmoat Stadium, he turned in a display that inspired his team-mates to only the third victory of Strachan’s 14-match reign.

There might have been little between the two teams for much of the first half, but then Johnson burst into life and his two goals started and finished a comfortable win – his 11th and 12th of the season.

His performance, scoring his first goals since Boxing Day, poses the question of where Middlesbrough would be this season without his goalscoring heroics from the flanks?

Johnson, attracting interest from a number of clubs including Sunderland and Chelsea, also turned provider by teeing up teenager Jonathan Franks on the stroke of half-time to score Boro’s second.

From that moment Middlesbrough never looked back and substitute Leroy Lita added a third before Johnson’s terrific free-kick in injury-time inflicted a second home defeat of the season on Doncaster.

Strachan, whose side did concede in the last seven minutes through Jordon Mutch, was able to recall Franks after a quick recovery from the suspected appendicitis which prevented him from facing Swansea.

But the injury sustained by Chris Riggott meant there were still 11 players sidelined.

Doncaster threatened to make the early breakthrough, but their quick and fluid passing failed to earn its rewards.

Middlesbrough goalkeeper Danny Coyne was quick to lay the foundations for a solid performance when he denied John Spicer from close range after his defence was caught napping from a quick Doncaster set-piece.

But, having weathered Rovers’ bright start, Middlesbrough quickly settled and fast became the more creative team, with Johnson and Franks complimenting the more powerful Chris Killen in attack.

Killen’s header across goal almost led to Johnson finding the opener.

The winger, unmarked at the back post, was denied by defender Sam Hird after David Wheater’s miss-hit overhead kick fell his way.

Once Middlesbrough had survived a scare when Billy Sharp forced Coyne into a flying left hand save after Gareth Roberts had appeared to foul Willo Flood, the stage was set for Johnson.

With the match struggling to burst into life, Johnson picked up possession near the far touchline.

After turning back towards the half-way line, he was invited to head back into space.

From there, with a lack of urgency to close him down, the former England Under-21 international struck a sweet left-foot drive from 25 yards which flying goalkeeper Neil Sullivan could get nowhere near.

Johnson’s celebration, when he chose to head towards the home fans, might have angered the Doncaster supporters, but it only acted as a dent into Sean O’- Driscoll’s team’s confidence.

Sharp had a goalbound effort deflected wide after he was allowed to turn dangerously inside the Boro box, but it was Middlesbrough that put the game to bed by the break.

Doncaster should have been alert to the Johnson- Franks combination, having already witnessed the pair combine for the latter to nod a free header inches wide.

But then Johnson’s burst down the flank beyond the tormented James Chambers allowed him to cut back perfectly for Franks to take a touch and power the ball high into Sullivan’s net.

Even by Middlesbrough’s poor standards this season, victory was secured and now Strachan will be more confident of reviving a season that had threatened to selfdestruct.

There were occasional danger signs for Coyne and his backline, with former Newcastle midfielder James Coppinger threatening occasionally, but the Middlesbrough goalkeeper and his defence proved solid until the latter stages.

It was from Coyne’s punt up field that Boro grabbed a crucial third. Sullivan and full-back Chambers got in a muddle and Lita was alert to head in the loose ball from close range.

Doncaster’s debutant Mutch, on loan from Birmingham, might have raised slim hopes of a revival when he struck a 25-yard drive beyond Coyne, but Johnson’s precisely drilled free-kick into Sullivan’s bottom corner made things safe again.


Goals: Johnson (30, 0-1); Franks (45, 0-2); Lita (66, 0-3); Mutch (83, 3- 1); Johnson (90, 1-4)
: O’Connor (90, foul)
: Steve Tanner (Taunton) 6
: 10, 794
: ✰✰✰

DONCASTER ROVERS (4-3-1-2): Sullivan 5; Chambers 4, O’Connor 4, Hird 5 (Webster 79), Roberts 4; COPPINGER 6 (Mcaid 82), Spicer 6 (Mutch 68, 6), Wilson 5 ; Guy 6; Heffernan 5, Sharp 6. Subs (not used): Dumbaya, Fisher, Smith, Clark.

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-3-3): Coyne 7; McMahon 8, Wheater 7, Grounds 8, Hoyte 6 (Taylor 90); Flood 6, O’Neil 7, Arca 7 (Bennett 79); Franks 7 (Lita 57, 6), Killen 7, JOHNSON 8. Subs (not used): Steele, Taylor, Walker, Emnes, Williams.

ADAM Johnson – two superb goals and created another to highlight his worth to the club