Blackburn Rovers 4, Reading 2: McCarthy flaunts Rovers' creativity

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The Independent Online

Mark Hughes probably had a wry smile to himself at the comments of Steve Coppell following Reading's latest goal-filled chastening on their turbulent Premier League travels.

While Coppell blamed himself for asking his players to step out of their familiarity zone in a line-up showing Dave Kitson as a lone striker, his counterpart continued to prosper by discarding the constraints of any rigid formation.

Blackburn Rovers are 4-4-2 in "name" only. Their strikers drop back into dangerous pockets of space, their two widest and most attacking midfielders, David Bentley and David Dunn, possess the sharp eye and tricks to put their many advances to good use and, at right-back, Brett Emerton has a natural flair to overlap.

When your 37-year-old midfielder memorably pings one in from 30 yards for his first League goal in almost 12 months, you know it is probably your day.

But Blackburn are playing with an inventiveness, fluidity and fluency that have brought them five wins in a row and six in their last seven home games.

Benni McCarthy, in the starting 11 for the first time in over a month after a wake-up call from his manager, scored the first and last, Roque Santa Cruz drilled in the second and the outstanding Tugay embarrassed Marcus Hahnemann with a stunning, swerving strike that might have been better dealt with.

"I am loving every game and sure I will score a lot of goals here," said Santa Cruz, whose partnership with McCarthy is drawing grandiose comparisons at Ewood Park. "I have read a little bit about Sutton and Shearer. It is nice to be compared to them. But it is no good talking about them until we have won a cup or something. Fans remember the players who win trophies, not just score lots of goals."

Reading again took too long to contribute to the goal-fest. Kevin Doyle, introduced from the bench in line with Coppell's policy on reintegrating players after international duty, helped spark a considerable improvement and scored twice with headers from fine deliveries by Nicky Shorey at right-wing set-pieces. But his side were awful before their half-time reversion to 4-4-2 and were two goals or more adrift from the 22nd minute.

All but one of their 10 points have come at the Madejski Stadium and Doyle lamented: "We have scored six goals in two away games and not been anywhere near a point. It's just as well we won our last home game and we have to make sure we win our home game next week [against Newcastle]."

Coppell bristles at "second season syndrome" talk but he may as well acknowledge it and confront it as he embarks on his third century of games in charge. Records show that, of the 11 Premier League new-arrivals since the turn of the century who have not gone straight back down, only two – one of them Blackburn – have performed better in their second season than the first.

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