The Irish international picked the ball up on the half-way line, dribbled at pace, unchallenged, to the edge of the area before planting a low, right-foot drive into the opposite corner.
Christian Ziege’s 18-yard strike gave us hope in injury time but another chance, let alone a second goal, was asking too much.
In the cold light of day clinical finishing was the difference between the sides.
Duff’s superb effort was barely a half-chance when he picked up the ball and Alan Mahon’s early goal was little more — he managed to squeeze the ball across Neil Sullivan and into the bottom corner from the tightest of angles.
In fact, two minutes summed it all up. Duff’s party piece was followed by chance of the match soon after as Steffen Iversen chased down Henning Berg, the defender’s header back fell woefully short but Iversen, with time to think, crucially hesitated as he approached Brad Friedel and the goalkeeper smothered the chance.
Things started poorly. Garry Flitcroft flew into Stephen Clemence in the fourth minute and the young midfielder, after hobbling around for a couple of minutes, signalled to come off.
A minute later and Rovers were ahead. Matt Jansen refused to be beaten by a combination of Chris Perry and Mauricio Taricco, won a throw, received the ball from Duff and slipped it through to the onrushing Mahon, who slid it into the bottom corner from an acute angle.
It was panic stations within a few seconds as Ledley King’s header looked to have sold Sullivan short but, thankfully, our number one is favourite for most 30-70s and Keith Gillespie was happy to hop over him.
Our football remained crisp going forward and our first spell of possession forged an opening after 11 minutes but Gus Poyet’s header from Christian Ziege’s cross lost pace off the surface and Friedel was untroubled.
Play continued to switch from end to end. Mahon fluffed a close-range header after a quick Flitcroft free-kick — no doubt an ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ response to David Beckham’s quick-thinking equaliser for United during the week — while Iversen’s pace took him past Martin Taylor onto Teddy Sheringham’s pass only for Friedel to save well.
Sullivan produced a similar save to deny Flitcroft from the edge of the area after 21 minutes and the outstanding Berg blocked Iversen’s effort after Poyet found him in the area.
The game then erupted as Perry clattered Jansen. Graeme Souness, irate that no card was shown, let rip from the sidelines and got involved with Taricco, Freund and Poyet on the sidelines. Taricco, who only wanted to take a throw in, was booked. Bizarre.
Rovers, always dangerous with Jansen, Mahon, Duff and Gillespie buzzing around, hit the post before the break as Gillespie flicked a volley from Duff’s cross.
The game continued where it left off after the break. Friedel superbly tipped Sheringham’s close-range volley over after 53 minutes and at the other end, Jansen scuffed his shot so badly after being put through that Sullivan, expecting something somewhat more fierce, had to save with his feet.
Ziege lifted a volley over the bar and the German full-back unfortunately overran the ball after a fine move involving Poyet and Sheringham.
Duff’s excellent goal made it 2-0 after 71 minutes and boss Glenn Hoddle, who had already thrown Sergei Rebrov into the action, immediately changed to a 3-4-3 formation to change the game.
We continued to pass the ball without creating a clear-cut chance until Ziege’s effort gave us late hope — but it was too little, too late.
A stunning strike from Damien Duff condemned us to our first Premiership defeat of the season at Ewood Park.