Football: Flitcroft finds his range for Rovers

Blackburn Rovers 3 Flitcroft 10, 47, Davidson 68 West Ham United 0 Attendance: 25,213
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THE CURATE'S egg that has been Blackburn's season continued with a commanding display that belied their recent league form and results. Roy Hodgson's side were able to overcome their prolonged deficiencies in attack with a brand of midfield movement that simply mesmerised West Ham.

The home side's mastery of all areas was illustrated by the varied source of their attacking thrust and subsequent goals, two from a rampaging Garry Flitcroft and full-back Callum Davidson's glorious closing strike. Having deployed a five-man midfield against Lyons in midweek, Hodgson's decision to retain Jason Wilcox as a lone striker paid handsome dividends.

That formation meant a wider supporting role for the returning Kevin Gallacher. His early energy and invention, coupled with Damien Duff's options on the opposite flank, created a perfect foil for Wilcox who displayed the industry and aggression of a classical target man. With the West Ham defence struggling to smother the fluidity of the Blackburn movement holes appeared for the late runs of Flitcroft and Tim Sherwood.

In contrast, West Ham were rigid. There was an enormous gap between a deep midfield and their strike pair of John Hartson and Ian Wright. Their one chance of note, an early close-range header from the unmarked Trevor Sinclair, was directed straight into the hands of Tim Flowers. An equaliser at that stage might have taken the swagger out of Blackburn's start. Instead, the home side grew in confidence and capitalised on the ounce of luck that sparked their scoring.

The Wilcox and Gallacher combination was at the heart of the build-up. Wilcox redirected a Christian Dailly cross back into the danger area where Gallacher's overhead attempt distracted attentions. The ball fell kindly for Flitcroft, whose side-footed effort was heading towards the sprawling frame of Shaka Hislop until Rio Ferdinand's outstretched boot deflected the ball into the goal.

The execution of Flitcroft's second goal left nothing to chance. Hislop was placed under pressure when a back-pass from Ferdinand arrived at chest height. The keeper's attempts to cushion the ball allowed Wilcox to charge in and create panic. Hislop's hurried clearance was hit directly at Flitcroft, whose instinctive volley sailed back into the vacated net.

The third goal was the pick of the bunch. Davidson started a forceful run just inside the opposition half and, when his pass was blocked at the edge of the area, curled a wonderful shot over and around Hislop. Even the introduction of Mark Keller, allowing manager Harry Redknapp to revert to a trio of central defenders, failed to stem the tide.

Redknapp felt his side had been hampered by injuries to four key players, Steve Lomas, Stan Lazaridis, Neil Ruddock and Eyal Berkovic. "We had to chop and change and looked well short. We didn't seem happy with the way we played and Blackburn deserved the win," the West Ham manager said .

In contrast, Hodgson heaped praise on the flexibility and attitude of his players and felt the tide was beginning to turn in Blackburn's favour. "I think our performances this season have been better than at the start of last season.

"I would have settled for West Ham dominating and us winning with the only shot of the game. The best bonus that I could receive as a manager was that we won playing such good football," he concluded.