Blackburn Rovers 4 Manchester United 3: Bentley's hat-trick buries knife into United

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The Independent Online

The deadline-day signing of David Bentley looked like a stroke of genius last night as the former Arsenal man's hat-trick brought Rovers their first League double over Manchester United in living memory.

The 21-year-old striker, who agreed a three-and-a-half-year contract at Ewood on the last day of the January transfer window after a successful spell on loan, scored two goals in 10 minutes before half-time and another after the break to stave off United's fightback.

All this from a player who has been used almost exclusively in midfield by Rovers and only played up front because of injuries to Paul Dickov and Craig Bellamy. Bentley even outshone United's Dutch master Ruud van Nistelrooy, whose two goals made a fight of it in the second half before United ended in disarray with the sending off of Rio Ferdinand for two bookings in the final minutes.

The third meeting between these clubs in three weeks saw United confronted again by Morten Gamst Pedersen, who scored two goals in their only home League defeat of the season so far, and by Brad Friedel, who did so much to try to defy them in the Carling Cup.

The other legacy from that tie was bad blood between Ferdinand and Robbie Savage following their altercation in the tunnel. But Sir Alex Ferguson's continued deployment of Ferdinand in midfield gave every opportunity for hostilities to resume.

In a scrappy first quarter it was only the number of free-kicks that Blackburn were conceding that threatened the breakthrough. At the other end Ferdinand was breaking up anything that came his way before it troubled the back four.

Cristiano Ronaldo's run and shot midway through the half was United's best effort so far before Andy Todd's foul on Kieran Richardson and Shefki Kuqi's charge out of the line to block a Ronaldo free-kick produced the game's first booking. Ten minutes before half-time, Blackburn took the lead completely against the run of play and the game went mad.

Inevitably a free-kick was involved for Wes Brown's foul on Kuqi. Pedersen took it from 30 yards out and although Edwin van der Sar finger-tipped it onto the angle of the woodwork, Bentley was there to put in the rebound.

The lead lasted only a couple of minutes, until a corner was cleared as far as Wayne Rooney, who hammered in a shot that Friedel could only palm away. Again there was a bonus for alert backing up as Louis Saha shot took a deflection off Todd to find the net.

The fun and games continued when Ferdinand made a mess of Kuqi's header, nodding it back over his own goalkeeper and leaving him stranded for Bentley to claim his second. In first- half injury-time Steven Reid's cross hit Brown's arm and Lucas Neill rounded up a breathless 10 minutes by putting Blackburn 3-1 up on the penalty spot.

This was a match in which an equally dramatic swing in the opposite direction was always a distinct possibility, but Friedel made a superb save from Rooney at the start of the second-half which at least delayed it.

The feeling that everything was running Blackburn's way seemed to harden into a certainty 12 minutes after the interval when Savage threw a hopeful foot at the ball and, whether by design or accident, steered it perfectly into the path of Bentley, who calmly let it sit up for him before driving past the helpless Van der Sar for his hat-trick.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel, Neill, Todd, Nelson, Gray, Reid, Savage (Mokoena, 90), Tugay (Emerton h-t), Pedersen, Kuqi, Bentley (Johnson, 90). Substitutes: Enckleman, Peter.

Manchester United (4-1-3-2): Van der Sar, Neville, Vidic, Brown (Silvestre, 77), Evra, Ferdinand, Ronaldo, Fletcher (Park, 55), Richardson (Van Nistelrooy, 55), Rooney, Saha. Substitutes: Howard, Pique.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

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