Blackburn Rovers 3 Newcastle United 1: Bentley disguises Hughes' confusion

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The Independent Online

Two sides who had lost the winning habit were ultimately separated by two marvellous goals from David Bentley. That brace of glorious strikes disguised any other Blackburn Rovers failings up front as Mark Hughes's side so impressive until he received the curse of the Manager of the Month award put an end to a run of four games without a win.

"He's got great technique," he said of his talented right-sided midfielder. "Technically, he's second to none. He hasn't had as great an impact over the last few weeks as he had today, but he's a very important player for us. It's good that England have got a good young player like that."

Bentley timed his return to his best with precision. Newcastle had taken the lead through Obafemi Martins's unmarked header and had been denied the chance of a second by a marginal offside decision.

A soft free kick, conceded by Charles N'Zogbia for a debatable foul on Roque Santa Cruz gave Bentley his invitation and the curl he imparted to the ball left Shay Given helpless. "He's an outstanding goalkeeper, but he had no chance from the moment it left his foot," Hughes said.

His second was as good in its own way. The substitute Jason Roberts won an important ball in the air, Santa Cruz ran at the defence and Bentley put a low, angled shot in off the far post when it broke to him.

Blackburn had plenty of chances to make the game safe after that, notably when Brett Emerton hit the same post, and they finally did so when Tugay found himself in acres of room in time added on, but it was Bentley who had done all the damage.

Apart from him, however, this victory particularly badly needed after a 4-0 humbling by Aston Villa at Ewood in midweek suggested that Hughes is still looking for his most effective attacking combination.

He started on Saturday with Benni McCarthy who will now be available to him in the New Year after being left out of South Africa's squad for the African Cup of Nations but his impact was limited to one first-time flick which could well have set up a goal for Santa Cruz.

He looked less than delighted at being replaced by Roberts and there were reports after the match of him leaving the ground in a hurry, without hanging around to get changed.

Morten Gamst Pedersen, surprisingly left on the bench again for most of the afternoon, is another who looks less than enchanted with life at the moment.

Then there is the riddle of Santa Cruz, who looked like a world-beater and an absolute snip when he arrived at the start of the season but who now seems distinctly mortal. He missed the best chance of the first half and generally drifted in and out of the match, leaving Rovers grateful for the more decisive contribution of Bentley.

The beleaguered Newcastle manager, Sam Allardyce, took the optimistic view that this was a vast improvement on the home defeat by Liverpool and would be seen as such by the fans who have been calling for his head. True, they came to Ewood and had a go. They had their chances and they were unlucky to have to twice rearrange their always suspect defence because of injuries to Abdoulaye Faye and Stephen Carr.

Their 6,000 travelling fans got behind them rather than on their backs in a self-conscious display of loyalty. But the fact remains that their dismal run of results goes on and that can only increase the pressure on Allardyce in the long term.

The manager declined to distance himself from Joey Barton's comments on the eve of the match, in which he called the atmosphere created by some disgruntled fans as "vicious."

"He's a strong man with strong opinions," Allardyce said. "Joey's commitment to the club was there for all the fans to see."

Commitment was not what Newcastle lacked. A little more composure during periods when they were on top might have given them something tangible to celebrate.

Goals: Martins (47, 0-1); Bentley (54, 1-1); Bentley (67, 2-1); Kerimoglu (90, 3-1).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Emerton, Ooijer, Samba, Warnock; Bentley, Mokoena (Reid 66), Tugay, Dunn (Pedersen 58): Santa Cruz, McCarthy (Roberts 61). Substitutes not used: Brown (g/k), Savage.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Beye, Faye (Carr 23, Viduka 72), Rozehnal, N'Zogbia; Geremi, Butt, Barton, Milner; Martins, Smith. Substitutes not used: Harper (g/k), Enrique, Emre.

Booked: Blackburn Tugay, Bentley Newcastle Butt, Barton

Referee: M.Atkinson (W.Yorks)

Attendance: 27,477

Man of the match: Bentley

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