Blackburn Rovers 4 Reading 2: Tugay too good as travel sickness hits Reading again

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The Independent Football

Blackburn Rovers' early season momentum continues unabated – at about the same rate as Reading's nosedive towards danger. Three up in a shade over half an hour, Mark Hughes' men registered, at a canter, their fifth successive victory and a sixth in their last seven home games.

The back-in-favour Benni McCarthy marked his first start in more than a month by starting and completing Blackburn's account, Roque Santa Cruz's sixth goal of the season being quickly followed by a long-range special from Tugay, who captured the Ewood Park mood by running half the length of the field to theatrically bow to the main stand.

It added up to more misery for Steve Coppell on his 200th match in charge of a club now developing a serious aversion to travelling. Reading, hit for seven at Portsmouth three weekends ago, have taken only one Premier League away point all season, against defending champions Manchester United no less, and are leaking goals with disturbing frequency.

They salvaged some pride with two late headers by their substitute Kevin Doyle but the manager was not looking for scapegoats after responding to the freakish events of Fratton Park by leaving Dave Kitson alone up front.

"It was 100 per cent me," he admitted. "I got it wrong and blame myself. I tried a different formation and it didn't work. In the second half, we got it going a bit, playing the way we're more accustomed."

With Ibrahima Sonko making his first start since suffering major knee damage in January, Reading were pulled about too easily for comfort by the movement and fluency of in-form Blackburn.

Marcus Hahnemann had already saved well from Christopher Samba and more routinely from David Bentley before the floodgates opened once more in the 22nd minute.

Reading afforded Brett Emerton too much room to flight a diagonal cross from the right that the unchallenged Santa Cruz fed across goal for McCarthy to volley in from a tight angle.

Five minutes later, a neat interchange freed David Dunn to play a lovely ball with the outside of his foot into the area, where Santa Cruz hammered a powerful drive under Hahnemann.

If those goals set up victory, the follow-up was the one that will live longest in the memory. For once, Reading appeared to have successfully cleared their lines when Sonko headed away following some penalty area pinball, only for Stephen Warnock to tee up Tugay for a stunning 30-yard right-foot shot that ripped and swerved beyond the keeper's upturned palms.

The hard work done, Blackburn eased off and Coppell used the interval to change both tactics and personnel.

What had appeared for some time to be a damage limitation exercise for Reading took on cheerier proportions in the final quarter. Friedel saved superbly low down from the substitute Leroy Lita and was rescued by Tugay, on the line, and the crossbar from attempts by Stephen Hunt and Michael Duberry respectively before Doyle nodded in two right-wing set-pieces by Nicky Shorey.

Unfortunately for Reading, McCarthy struck again in between the Irishman's brace with a penalty after Sonko's trip on Matt Derbyshire. "The intensity was a bit down in the second half but we were excellent in the first," said Hughes. "Some of our play was very inventive."

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