Blackburn Rovers 2 West Bromwich Albion 0

Kuqi cuts a dash to cast more gloom over Albion
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The Independent Online

Thanks heavens, then, for Shefki Kuqi. Just when it seemed that this match was heading for a draw that would not have lingered long in the memory, the Finland striker scored twice in the last 10 minutes. At a stroke Blackburn Rovers are looking optimistically towards the future after successive Premiership victories and West Bromwich Albion, like last autumn, are facing a season of fear and goading.

"Blackburn stepped up a gear and we couldn't cope," Bryan Robson, the West Bromwich manager, said. "We kept giving the ball away, I don't think we strung more than two passes together."

Kuqi, on the pitch only because of an injury to Craig Bellamy, got his first with a powerful downward header and then showed a defter touch to beat Chris Kirkland after Curtis Davies' back pass had been mishit into the perfect through-ball in the 88th minute. He celebrated both goals with a passable imitation of a belly flop, which just about described the game before his intervention.

Much has been made of the entertainment value provided by the Premiership in recent weeks and for 80 minutes, it appeared both teams contrived to make a promotional video for Saturday afternoon shopping. Caution curtailed any intervention and the only element of surprise was the passing that, at times, was so bad it took the breath away.

Blackburn had Manchester United supporters booing Sir Alex Ferguson the previous weekend, but any sense of euphoria dissipated as Albion carved two chances within 11 minutes. Kevin Campbell could touch but not direct Martin Albrechtsen's cross and then Brad Friedel blocked Jonathan Greening's close-range shot.

Bellamy limped off with a knee injury and a bad afternoon seemed to be looming for Blackburn until Kuqi, hitherto more clumsy than cultured, gave a hint of what would come with a cross from the right in the 48th minute that was nearly inch-perfect. Paul Dickov had drawn back his foot in anticipation when Albrechtsen slid in to nick the ball away.

Dickov was then brought down by Davies for what seemed to be a legitimate penalty and it appeared the match was going to peter out completely when Kuqi transformed both it and his prospects with his first goal as a Blackburn player after a transfer from Ipswich Town in the summer.

"I'm delighted for him," Mark Hughes, his manager, said. "He's a good pro and wants to succeed at this level." On the run of victories, which also includes a victory over Huddersfield Town in the Coca Cola Cup, he added: "That's three games, three wins, seven goals and three players with two goals each. We are the great entertainers." Hughes had the decency to accompany his words with a sardonic grin.

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