Craig Bellamy's brief Blackburn career may have been blighted by false starts, but there can be no doubting the Wales international has already made a significant impact at Ewood Park following a second dramatic substitute appearance in four days in this third-round Carling Cup tie last night.
Having marked his return from his latest injury with a goal against Birmingham last Saturday, the forward once again stepped off the bench to devastating effect, this time conjuring a hat-trick of assists that allowed Brett Emerton, Paul Dickov and Lucas Neill to overwhelm a Leeds side eventually reduced to 10 men by the 87th-minute dismissal of Gylfi Einarsson.
Bellamy's devastatingly effective cameo appearance prompted feelings of both frustration and anticipation within Mark Hughes, who has already seen his £6m summer signing on the sidelines twice this season with knee and ankle problems and is determined not to risk further damage to his investment. Hughes said: "He is not quite there fitness-wise just yet, but there is no doubt he is an exceptional talent and you saw his qualities tonight. He made an impact and that is what we want our substitutes to do.
"We have made a conscious effort to introduce him slowly and surely and I think he has more confidence in his fitness now. But we will not give him 90 minutes until he is ready."
Hughes has targeted this competition as a potential source of silverware and he delivered a telling statement of intent when he named a team largely unchanged from Rovers' familiar Premiership line-up. But despite dominating the game, Blackburn rarely troubled their Championship opponents before Bellamy's 53rd-minute introduction, when the presence of the former Newcastle forward immediately galvanised Hughes' side.
Within seven minutes they were ahead as the substitute's slide-rule pass released Emerton, who finished confidently past the Leeds goalkeeper Neil Sullivan from a tight angle. Then, in the 77th minute, Bellamy traded passes with Morten Gamst Pedersen on the left-hand flank before whipping a superb low cross that the unmarked Dickov turned home for his second goal in two games.
The visitors' frustration boiled over three minutes from time when Einarsson was sent off for a crude lunge on Robbie Savage, although the Leeds manager, Kevin Blackwell, predictably, questioned Savage's role in the incident.
The tie already over, Bellamy completed his impressive, yet brief, evening's work with another clever pass that allowed Neill to stride into the Leeds penalty area and hit his first goal of the season.
Blackwell, who had made five changes to his side, admitted this was perhaps a competition too far for the promotion-chasing Yorkshire club. "The Premiership is the holy grail. We want to win every match but if we'd gone through we wouldn't have had a break before Christmas."
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Khizanishvili (Mokoena, 68), Todd, Gray; Emerton, Savage, Tugay, Pedersen; Dickov (Jansen, 78), Kuqi (Bellamy, 53). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Bentley.
Leeds United (4-5-1): Sullivan; Richardson, Butler, Kilgallon, Harding; Moore, Einarsson, Gregan (Douglas, 70), Pugh (Lewis, 72), Healy; Blake (Hulse, 77). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk),Walton.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside)Reuse content