is heaven for Rovers
By David Instone
With an anger born out of his frustration at not one but two managers, Jason Roberts yesterday resolved local bragging rights in favour of a fully deserving Blackburn Rovers with a stunning last-minute goal.
Unleashed from the substitutes' bench 14 minutes from time, Roberts applied the killer blow his team had long been threatening when he embarked on a barnstorming 60-yard run following Roque Santa Cruz's headed pass.
Kevin Nolan, Kevin Davies and Gavin McCann were left trailing in the striker's slipstream before a right-foot shot from the edge of the area took enough of a deflection off the lunging Joey O'Brien to defeat Jussi Jaaskelainen at his near post.
Roberts' delight as he was submerged in his team-mates and substitutes clearly stretched beyond the joy of extending Blackburn's supremacy over a still troubled Bolton Wanderers. He looked a man on a mission as he set out to prove his manager, Mark Hughes, wrong for overlooking him for a starting place since his recent return from injury.
"I have been ready for a while and was glad to get the chance to show what I could do," said Roberts, who had a transfer request rejected last month. "I think I deserved an opportunity and wanted to make an impact."
Roberts' moment might have come earlier had it not been for Andy O'Brien's intervention and no one could argue with the justice of Blackburn's 50th league win over Bolton and the extension of their unbeaten record at the Reebok to eight years. Morten Gamst Pedersen twice went close to reflect the class gap and David Bentley's late free-kick was scrambled wide by Jaaskelainen while a miscued shot by the debutant Tamir Cohan was all Bolton mustered.
Life without Nicolas Anelka started for Bolton with a magnificent Nolan goal and little else. From Brad Friedel's punch, Joey O'Brien lumped the ball back into the goalmouth where Nolan had drifted into space on the left of the area. The finish, a controlled first-time, right-foot volley that looped yards beyond the goalkeeper, was something of which Anelka would have been proud.
Blackburn were always the more measured, cultured side and fully merited the equaliser that came from Christopher Samba soon after Santa Cruz had been denied by Jaaskelainen at the start of a one-sided second half. The keeper was uneasy against the high quality of Blackburn's corners all afternoon, going for Bentley's curling left-wing delivery, then checking to leave Samba to score with a bouncing header from four yards.
The African Nations Cup has taken away Bolton's second leading scorer El Hadji Diouf and Blackburn had little trouble subduing the isolated Davies in securing a victory that lifted them above Portsmouth amid increasing evidence that their poor run is behind them.
They are now bracing themselves for a possible approach for Hughes. The manager heard his name chanted more than once by the travelling fans, a response to the fact he is the new favourite to become Newcastle United's next manager.
Hughes spoke only of his commitment to Blackburn and speculation beyond his control, but said: "I thought we were very unlucky to be behind and got our reward in the end. In the second half, we were exceptional. Jason has been frustrated with his lack of opportunity. There's no doubting his ability. Once he gets on the half-turn, he has power and pace and it was a great finish."
His Bolton counterpart, Gary Megson, said: "For Blackburn to equalise as simply as they did is not acceptable at any level, certainly not in the Premier League. We struggled to handle Jason's pace and power from the time he was introduced."
Goals: Nolan (42) 1-0; Samba (53) 1-1; Roberts (90) 1-2.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; O'Brien, Michalik, A O'Brien, Gardner; Nolan, Campo (McCann, 57), Cohan (Wilhelmsson, 63); Guthrie, Davies, Giannakopoulos. Substitutes not used: Al Hasbi (gk), Hunt, Fojut.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Ooijer (Khizanishvili, 73), Samba, Nelsen, Warnock; Bentley, Reid, Dunn, Pedersen; Santa Cruz (Derbyshire, 90), McCarthy (Roberts, 76). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Berner.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Bolton Campo, Cohan; Blackburn Samba.
Man of the match: Bentley.
Attendance: 18,315.Reuse content