McCarthy snatches victory for misfiring Blackburn

Blackburn Rovers 2 Sunderland 1
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Sam Allardyce was not entirely convinced that Benni McCarthy could become a force when he arrived at Ewood Park six weeks ago, but the South African provided more assurances with his sixth goal in nine games under new management as he spared his side a penalty shoot-out last night.

Three minutes of extra time remained when McCarthy manoeuvred himself beneath a ball lofted over from the right by Carlos Villanueva and glanced it past Craig Gordon to seal a fifth-round home tie against Coventry City.

It was his 10th goal of the season and, taken with his 87th-minute fifth-round winner against Arsenal here two years ago, cemented him as something of an Ewood Cup king. It illustrated how Allardyce has energised him in a way that Rovers' former manager Paul Ince did not and provided a reminder of why McCarthy was the Premier League's second-highest scorer behind Didier Drogba two years ago. "He had been frustrated by the lack of starts, which he spoke to me about, but it's difficult with three quality front men," Allardyce said.

The denouement was unfortunate for the Sunderland keeper Gordon, who had something to prove in his first game since the 4-1 home defeat to Bolton which saw Roy Keane take his leave of Wearside. Gordon, out for 10 weeks since with a broken ankle sustained in training, might have been slightly at fault at the death – a few step towards the dipping cross Villanueva put over and McCarthy would not have been allowed that free header – but Rovers would have put the tie away long before without his half-dozen class saves. A keeper Keane paid £7m up front for, he was certainly equal to the force of Roque Santa Cruz. Manchester City's £18.5m target powered one header over and watched Gordon tip another the same way before making way for McCarthy. The task of straightening out the Paraguayan's mind might not come easy. He is an individual who has been in limbo for the two months City have pursued him.

Rovers have become a more fundamentally defence-minded side under Allardyce but their 17 efforts on goal, taken with the multitude they spurned at Middlesbrough four days ago, proved his players can create and none less than Villanueva, who on this performance merits more than the 14 starts he has been granted this season. "With the chances they are creating we should be scoring more," said Allardyce, whose tie with Coventry reacquaints him with a side he played for in the 1983-84 season but who routed Rovers 4-1 in the FA Cup last season. "I had a very good year at Coventry but they gave me my boots in a binliner," said Allardyce, reflecting on how City released him after that year.

Sunderland were curiously anonymous, sitting deep and allowing Rovers to play, despite having gone into a seventh-minute lead when the Northern Ireland international David Healy pounced for his second goal in a meagre three starts since his £1.5m summer arrival from Fulham, seizing his chance after Daryl Murphy's 20-yard shot was deflected into his path off Ryan Nelsen.

Aaron Mokoena had scored only once in four years at Ewood before he got Rovers level on 36 minutes after one of Villanueva's half-dozen speculative strikes was blocked into his path. Mokoena's 30-yard shot took a heavy deflection from Anton Ferdinand. Thereafter, the longer the game went on the less likely a breakthrough seemed for either of two sides who have encountered each other five times in four months. It made McCarthy's finish all the more special.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Simpson, Khizanishvili, Nelsen (Ooijer, 86), Givet; Villanueva, Mokoena, Dunn (Tugay, 60), Treacy; Santa Cruz, (McCarthy, 71) Roberts. Substitutes not used: Bunn (gk), Pedersen, Olsson, Doran.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Kay (Bardsley, 55), Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney; Edwards, Leadbitter, Reid, Malbranque (Yorke, 75); Healy, Murphy. Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Whitehead, Richardson, Colback, Luscombe.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).