Home » EPL, Latest » Match Report: Blackburn 2 Sunderland 0

Victory drew a huge roar at the final whistle from Rovers fans, celebrating being six points clear of the drop zone, everyone present knowing how precious a result this was.

Deserved too. Steve Kean’s side showed far greater ambition than Martin O’Neill’s. Blackburn now have 28 points, five points clear of 17th-placed Bolton Wanderers, who have a game in hand. Bolton are a point clear of QPR, Wigan Athletic and Wolves, who are all struggling for form. Safety may even come at 31 points, especially for Blackburn with their superior goal difference.

Rovers are now as close to Aston Villa as they are to Bolton. “We are starting to look up,” said Kean. “We can catch the teams above. We looked at this month, and thought this was a big opportunity to put points on the board.”

March has been very productive. After drawing with Villa, Kean’s side beat Wolves and now Sunderland.

This weekend, Blackburn are due at the Reebok, although confirmation that the fixture is going ahead has yet to arrive from Bolton, who are still reeling from the heart attack suffered by Fabrice Muamba.

“We know Saturday will be very emotional if it goes ahead,” said Kean.

“I’m delighted Fabrice is making progress. If Bolton don’t feel prepared, we totally understand and we will play on another date.”

If the game does take place on Saturday, and Blackburn defeat their closest rivals in the relegation scrap, they are all but safe, a sweet moment for the oft-criticised Kean.

“I always said that I’d never give up,” reflected the Blackburn manager, whose nadir of results and abuse from the terraces came when Bolton won here on Dec 20. ‘”I always said I wanted to see the fans going home singing and cheering, getting to safety and enjoying the summer.”

This victory ensured Rovers’ first back-to-back league wins of the season. “It’s back-to-back clean sheets too,” continued Kean. “We’ve worked hard at the training ground for those clean sheets. There was Martin Olsson making that clearance (from underneath Nicklas Bendtner’s feet in the second half). The players were throwing themselves in front of shots.”

The real aces in the Rovers pack are the strikers. Kean set Sunderland a tactical conundrum they never managed to solve with Hoilett moving smoothly through the no-man’s land between midfield and attack, always looking to support Yakubu. Sunderland’s centre-halves did not know whether to stick or twist, whether to step out to pick up Hoilett or leave it to their midfielders, Craig Gardner and David Vaughan.

With Hoilett causing trouble with his quicksilver movement, Blackburn settled quickly, attacking the Darwen End and they should have taken the lead after three minutes. Hoilett made the break, Yakubu took it on, hooking it past Simon Mignolet and denied only by Phil Bardsley’s athletic clearance on the line.

“Yakubu and Hoilett have been causing all sorts of problems for centre-backs,” said Kean. “Junior likes playing wide, especially on the left so he can cut in on his right. He’s got good feet, good movement and provides service for Yakubu.”

Rovers fans were enjoying the sight of Hoilett darting here and there, knowing that their widely-coveted attacker is likely to leave in the summer.

“Junior’s out of contract and week in, week out, more teams are going to be interested in him. Let’s get to safety and make him an offer. He’ll play every week here. Will he play week in, week out at another club?”

Yet even Hoilett could not rise above the dire nature of the first 45 minutes. Some of the control on view was alarmingly poor, especially from Fraizer Campbell, an England international. Campbell did chest down a fantastic cross from McClean but was dispossessed in the act of shooting.

A dire game finally came alive seven minutes into the second period. Mauro Formica’s volley drew a marvelous stretching save from Mignolet.

Rovers were increasing the pressure, taking the lead just before the hour-mark. It came from a Morten Gamst Pedersen throw, the ball launched long into the Sunderland box. Mignolet, running into a crowd of players, attempted to punch clear but the ball fell to Hoilett, who drove the ball low and hard into the net.

As Hoilett celebrated in front of the Blackburn End, Sunderland looked at each other in frustration. This was some of the worst football they have played under O’Neill. They attempted to rally, McClean drilling in a superb low cross from the left that seemed destined for Bendtner until Martin Olsson slid in to clear.

Sunderland should have equalized after 78 minutes. When Sebastian Larsson lifted into a cross from the right, James McClean worked the ball back across perfectly for the substitute Ji Dong-won. Somehow, from six yards out, Ji belted the ball wildly over. His shot almost finished in Darwen, let alone the Darwen End. “He’s obviously disappointed with himself,’’ observed O’Neill.

With Sunderland pushing on, Blackburn counter-attacked. Bradley Orr, just brought on by Kean, swept in a cross from the right and there was Yakubu heading firmly past Mignolet to ensure a deserved win.

As Rovers celebrated, as a smile crept on to Kean’s face, O’Neill refused to criticize his side. “Since early December, there have been only been two occasions, against West Bromwich Albion, and parts of tonight where we’ve underperformed,” said O’Neill, who lamented the lack of “intensity” that Sunderland had showed in Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final draw at Everton.

“We left a little bit behind at Goodison,” said O’Neill. “That might be a contributory factor but it’s not an excuse. We have to be right for games.” Sunderland weren’t last night. Blackburn were.

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