Blackburn Rovers 3 West Ham United 2: Savage and Friedel welcome West Ham to the fight club

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The Independent Football

"I'm very, very disappointed," Alan Pardew, the West Ham manager, said, blaming the referee, Mike Riley, for losing control of the game. His anger though would have been better aimed at his players, who seemed surprised, and were certainly discomforted, by the fiery will-to-win displayed by their opponents.

It was as if they were not expecting the Premiership to be like this. Skill, yes, and West Ham have done an excellent job in stepping up from the Championship, but teams willing to strain every muscle and scrap like brothers? Surely, Carruthers, we left ruffians like that behind last season?

Not at Blackburn. Rovers have more prickly characters than the Tiggywinkle family and West Ham had their attention turned to spats and grievances rather than the bigger picture. Their defence, disrupted by an injury to Danny Gabbidon and undermined by an unjust penalty against Tomas Repka, wilted under the raw forcefulness of Savage, Paul Dickov and Shefki Kuqi, losing a game they should have won.

Bobby Zamora and Marlon Harewood's goals were masterpieces of pace and precision, Blackburn's were scrappy triumphs of determination, but who was smiling at the end? Well, it was definitely not Pardew.

"I feel aggrieved that I'm going to have to explain to the FA why we got six bookings," he said. "We might have to send a video in as a defence because it was all unnecessary. Let's just say the referee could have handled the whole game in a better way."

The result was epitomised by Kuqi's 76th-minute winner. The Finn looked clumsy compared to the Hammers' silky centre-backs, Anton Ferdinand and Christian Dailly, but he won an aerial duel with the latter and then brushed them both out of his way like John Wayne entering a saloon before crashing a volley past Roy Carroll.

It was a goal to warm the heart of the Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes, who spent a playing career mixing muscle with skill, and was not the slightest bit concerned that Savage and Friedel had fallen out briefly.

"Let's have more of it," he said with a smile after the frank exchange of views over a mix-up culminated in the large goalkeeper barging into his much smaller colleague. "It was a case of players having demands on themselves and their team-mates. It's something I want to see."

And the aftermath? "They're laughing and joking about it in the dressing-room," he replied. You can rest assured there was little laughing and joking in the visitors' dressing-room.

Goals: Zamora (45) 0-1; Dickov pen (56) 1-1; Dickov (57) 2-1; Harewood (63) 2-2; Kuqi (76) 3-2.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Reid, Neill, Khizanishvili, Gray; Emerton (Kuqi, 61), Savage, Tugay (Mokoena, 79), Pedersen; Bentley (Jansen, 89), Dickov. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Thompson.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Carroll; Repka, Ferdinand, Gabbidon (Dailly, 21) , Konchesky; Benayoun, Mullins, Noble (Bellion, 61), Etherington; Harewood, Zamora (Alladière, 76). Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Newton.

Booked: Blackburn Tugay, Gray, Dickov; West Ham Noble, Konchesky, Ferdinand, Repka, Harewood, Carroll.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

Man of the match: Dickov.

Attendance: 20,370.

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