Blackburn Rovers 2 Sunderland 0: Bellamy hits form against condemned Sunderland

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The Independent Online

Depressing enough for Sunderland was Premiership defeat number 20 of a campaign in which they long ago kissed goodbye to any realistic hopes of survival.

The extra irritation they could well have done without was in having a former Newcastle United player shoving them closer to inevitable relegation.

Craig Bellamy, previously without a league goal in 2006, took his season's tally to 11 with the double that means Blackburn Rovers may yet reach Europe without recourse to the Intertoto Cup. He illuminated an ordinary game either side of half-time and almost made it one to cherish with a late 25-yarder that cannoned out of the post.

"It's important we keep Craig fit from now on," said Mark Hughes, who today takes his squad on a five-day break to Dubai from the comfort of seventh place.

"You sense the apprehension among opponents when he's around. He's a quality player; of his type, one of the better players in the Premier League.

"He's a real goal threat and helped make this a very straightforward win."

While Bellamy emphatically underlined his latest return to fitness, there was no place for David Bentley, the man who had scored a hat-trick against Manchester United in Blackburn's previous home game. He was dropped following the two subsequent away defeats which prompted Hughes to give his players a piece of his mind.

The desired response certainly didn't come immediately, with Sunderland making some decent early advances. Julio Arca fired over from 25 yards, Kevin Kyle headed tamely to Brad Friedel and Nyron Nosworthy drove wide when set up by Tommy Miller. Typical of a relegation-bound side, though, they conceded without coming under much pressure.

After Liam Lawrence had narrowly failed to touch in Kyle's low centre, Morten Gamst Pedersen saw a 40th-minute shot at the other end deflected by Nosworthy and half saved by Kelvin Davis. Bellamy nudged home the loose ball from seven yards.

Blackburn were much more decisive and impressive in a second half kick-started by a Steven Reid header that brought a sprawling near-post save out of Davis from a centre by Michael Gray.

No sooner had Lawrence again just failed to apply a crucial touch, this time from Arca's centre, than Blackburn doubled their lead in the 63rd minute.

Tugay's sweeping cross-field pass was superbly helped on first-time by substitute Sergio Peter for Bellamy to escape his marker and float in a neat header.

Jon Stead, who has lost his scoring touch so spectacularly somewhere between Lancashire and Wearside that he has now gone 22 Sunderland games without a goal, was given a warm reception by the home fans when introduced at the three-quarter stage.

He was sacrificed at the start as Mick McCarthy reverted to the 4-5-1 formation that was less than successful early this season. Then again, the manager has not yet found a system to harvest anything like enough Premiership points. "We played better with that formation," McCarthy said. "I know we did because we created more chances.

"There's no complaint at the endeavour the players gave me."

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Gray; Reid, Savage, Tugay (Khizanishvili, 82), Pedersen (Peter, 54); Bellamy, Sinama-Pongolle (Kuqi, 68). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Bentley.

Sunderland (4-5-1): Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, Collins, McCartney; Lawrence (Stead, 68), Leadbitter (Murphy, 74), Whitehead, Miller (Woods, 77), Arca; Kyle. Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Caldwell.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).

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