Football FA Cup: Duff strike sets Rovers on the way to Anfield

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Blackburn Rovers 2 West Bromwich Albion 0 (aet; score at 90 min 0-0)

BLACKBURN ROVERS will have more than an improbable tilt at promotion to look forward to in the New Year. Liverpool and the fourth round of the FA Cup await after they squeezed past West Bromwich last night and with it a chance to return to the Anfield ground where they won the Premiership in 1995.

Ah memories, but there will be very few that linger from this match. The two First Division sides had reached a near standstill after slogging it out for more than two matches when Damien Duff finally prised them apart four minutes into extra-time and Lee Carsley put the result beyond doubt with a 114th-minute penalty.

Duff's goal was fortunate, bizarre even, but with the Liverpool match already booked for television the prize is a lucrative one. Nathan Blake flicked on and after Ashley Ward had got entangled with two West Bromwich defenders the danger appeared to have passed when the ball drifted close to the deadball line, 10 yards from the posts. Duff feinted to cross and with that avenue closed he tried a shot that deflected off the legs of Daniel Gabbidon and trickled into the net.

It was a goal that was in keeping with an evening where the finishing was so poor a conventional strike would have stuck out as extraordinary. Once Blackburn's initial flurry had burnt itself out the game seemed destined for penalties.

Within four minutes Nathan Blake had looped a header just over and fired narrowly wide and he was just at the front of a line of one-way traffic that included shots from Per Frandsen, Ashley Ward and Duff. Indeed, West Bromwich had barely crossed the halfway line before Fabian De Freitas interrupted the flow after 16 minutes with a shot that had Alan Kelly scampering across his line to save.

"Had a goal gone in at the start we might have been well beaten," Brian Little, the Albion manager, said, "but we had a few attacks, got a little belief and got more into it."

Even so, Blackburn had a gilt-edged opportunity seconds before the interval. Matt Carbon made a hash of a header and Blake was in the clear. The former Bolton Wanderers striker raced through but the opportunity was on his weaker right foot and it was blocked by Alan Miller's dive.

The second half heralded an outstanding save from Miller, when McAteer crossed from the right and Duff arrived at the far post to put the ball back to where the West Bromwich goalkeeper had come from. Somehow he changed direction and palmed the header away.

Callum Davidson flashed a shot narrowly wide soon afterwards but the superiority of the Blackburn play slowly dissipated and Lee Hughes might have stolen the match for Albion on the hour. A lucky rebound fell to him eight yards but he somehow managed to miss the ball completely.

Albion, without three suspended players and with flu rife in the squad, were unlikely to survive unscathed in extra-time and after Duff's goal they barely threatened. Instead it was Blackburn who put the tie beyond doubt when Adam Oliver tripped Duff in the area and Carsley scored from the penalty spot.

"Damien was the difference really," the Blackburn manager, Tony Parkes, said. "He scored the first one, and we got the penalty for a foul on him too. Some people said his goal was lucky. But Damien said he meant it, and that'll do for me. We are all now looking forward to the trip to Anfield."

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Kelly; Kenna, Taylor, Dailly, Davidson; McAteer (Johnson, 117), Frandsen, Carsley, Duff; Ward, Blake (Ostenstad, 117). Substitutes not used: Broomes, Harkness, Fettis (gk).

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Miller; Gabbidon, Raven, Carbon, Van Blerk; De Freitas (McDermott, 90), Sneekes, Oliver, Angel; Evans (Richards, 117), Hughes. Substitutes not used: J Chambers, A Chambers, Morris (gk).

Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).