Blackburn Rovers 1 Newcastle United 3: Hughes left in daze after the dismissal of Henchoz

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The Independent Online

What is it with Blackburn Rovers and officials? As recently as last Thursday, Mark Hughes, the manager, spent two hours with the Premier League's referees' chief, Keith Hackett, discussing the minutiae of the offside law and disciplinary matters.

Little more than 48 hours later and Rovers had suffered another sending-off - they now have the worst record in the League - while Hughes was convinced that both of Newcastle United's first two goals should have been ruled out by a linesman's flag. Stéphane Henchoz's red card was the third shown to a Blackburn player this season - discounting Andy Todd's against Portsmouth that was rescinded - with a further 36 cautions making a total only Middlesbrough can match.

In the process on Saturday they failed to win for the eighth time in nine League games, and now sit perilously close to the bottom of the Premiership. Should Sheffield United pick up a point at home to Aston Villa tonight, they will slip a further place to 17th.

Hughes was left to bemoan yet another controversial defeat and wonder when his side's luck would turn. Certainly, many referees would only have cautioned Henchoz for his tangle with Obafemi Martins, Newcastle's match-winner. Dermot Gallagher, the official in question, decided that the veteran Swiss was the last defender, even though Martins was heading towards the corner flag and cover would surely have arrived before even this near-Olympic-standard sprinter had beared down on goal.

As for the offside decisions, Martins was in fact rightly allowed to collect Antoine Sibierski's through ball and open the scoring. And depending on your interpretation of when players are and are not active - Hughes had thought he understood after his consultations with Hackett until this incident - Steven Taylor was indeed offside when Charles N'Zogbia crossed for the second goal, though not after Morten Gamst Pedersen's attempted clearance had fallen to his feet.

These two goals, and the sending-off, all took place within 10 first-half minutes, after which the match looked effectively over. But to Blackburn's great credit, they had much the better of the second half and after Pedersen had demonstrated that his right foot is every bit as dangerous as his left with a fabulous 25-yard strike, they repeatedly came threatened an equaliser. The nearest they came was also via the Norwegian - this time an altogether less classical strike that bobbled off his shoulder - but Shay Given once again saved the day for Newcastle.

A draw would have been a fair result, but with Brad Friedel coming forward for an injury-time corner, Martins led the counter-attack and took advantage of the vacated net to confirm Newcastle's third consecutive win in the League. They have now been beaten only once in 12 games.

After starting Saturday level on points with Blackburn, they have moved into the relative comfort of mid-table, while their opponents must contemplate the prospect of dropping into the bottom three with an unpromising sequence of fixtures lying ahead of them.

"We keep playing really well and not winning," said Pedersen. "Small things are going against us but it's a long season so hopefully things will come right for us - perhaps Santa will come early! Maybe we will beat Reading, Arsenal, Liverpool and Wigan and then we will be at the other end of the table." Quite a wish-list. Blackburn fans will be hoping their star midfielder, born within the Arctic Circle, is a personal friend of Father Christmas.

Goals: Martins (31) 0-1; Taylor (35) 0-2; Pedersen (46) 1-2; Martins (90) 1-3.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Ooijer, Henchoz, Gray; Bentley (Todd, 46), Savage, Tugay, Pedersen; McCarthy, Nonda (Derbyshire, 46). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Mokoena, Peter.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Solano (Rossi, 66), Taylor, Ramage, Babayaro; Milner, Emre (Pattison 53), Butt, N'Zogbia; Sibierski ( Huntington, 85), Martins. Substitutes not used: Srnicek (gk), Luque.

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

Booked: Blackburn McCarthy; Newcastle Babayaro, N'Zogbia.

Sent off: Blackburn: Henchoz (40).

Man of the match: Martins.

Attendance: 19,225.

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