In recent weeks we have been praying for some professional and accomplished displays to see an up-turn in fortunes when all that was needed was an under-par and lacklustre performance. It was far from pretty but it engineered three points, a goal for Benni McCarthy and a clean sheet, plus the added bonus of a former Rover being sent off on a bitingly cold evening in Blackburn.
Mark Hughes made a single change with Chris Samba returning to partner Ryan Nelsen after the birth of his son.
Mark Hughes would have pressed his charges to make an up-tempo start but it was Roy Keane`s men who took the game to Rovers early on. The power and presence of Kenwyne Jones was being complemented by the elegance and guile of Kieran Richardson to engineer a number of half chances for the travelling Mackems.
However, very few troubled Brad Friedel in the Rovers goal and it was in fact Blackburn who went closest to scoring in a dour first half. David Bentley once again demonstrated his expertise from a dead ball situation, whipping a vicious free-kick narrowly off target from all of 30 yards.
Roque Santa Cruz, who was looking worryingly subdued, also glanced a header wide, when he showed have found the target.
Sunderland continued to enjoy the lions share of possession with a particularly interesting battle arising between two veterans, Tugay of Rovers and Dwight Yorke of Sunderland.
The pair were pulling all the strings for both sides, making intelligent passes and doing their best to unsettle the opposition. Tugay did receive a yellow in the first half having been caught out by a Sunderland break.
With little more in the way of notable event, both sides trudged off for half time. However, Santa Cruz wasn`t to re-emerge after the break, replaced by Matt Derbyshire.
The game exploded into life in the 50th minute when Rob Styles awarded his seventh penalty of the season – more than any other referee – adjudging that Chris Samba had fouled Daryl Murphy in the area. It was a clumsy piece of defending by the giant Congolese defender, epitomising Rovers as a whole on the evening.
Alas, for the second consecutive game, Friedel guessed the right way the penalty would be struck and comfortably held onto Dean Whitehead`s placed effort. Sunderland looked flustered but things took a turn for the worse just minutes later as Rovers went up field and were awarded a penalty of their own.
Chris Samba, once again in the thick of the action, swivelled and shot and the ball struck the arm of a defender. Styles had little hesitation pointing to the spot and presented Benni McCarthy with the ideal opportunity to end his two month wait for a goal.
Of course Rovers fans were dubious considering McCarthy missed his last penalty but he lashed this one home with some aplomb, clinically drilling the ball into the corner.
Despite the goal this failed to lift Rovers` display instead Sunderland pluckily continued to press in search of an equaliser. However, their inability to generate any clear openings was their Achilles heal. The game was then affected once more by Rob Styles when he sent off former Rover Dwight Yorke for two yellow cards in five minutes, both deserved following lunges from behind, the first of which forced substitute Matt Derbyshire off.
Rovers then, finally, managed to control the game and never looked like relinquishing their lead.
Saved the day again.
Solid and resolute.
A tad clumsy in parts.
Couldn’t influence the game as much as normal.
Pulled the strings but at times was over-shadowed.
Santa Cruz 7