While Blackburn Rovers' new owners have been making noises about securing European football, Sunderland manager Steve Bruce remains anxious to avoid the subject despite a comfortable victory to underline his side's credentials for a top-six finish. Bruce's New Year's resolution for his team remains rather more modest – to end the season in the top half of the Premier League.
"We've given ourselves a chance to try and cement our place in the top ten," he said. "I'm not going to talk about Europe now just because we're in the top six." Limping to the festive finishing line without nine first-teamers, Blackburn met a side who cashed in the luck they were owed from their previous game, an unfathomable 2-0 defeat to Blackpool,when 32 shots on target proved insufficient to break their duck.
They scored from their first two yesterday. When Ryan Nelsen headed an 11th-minute clearance at Danny Welbeck the striker directed his shot inside one post, only for it to hit Nelsen and go in off the other. The impressive Ahmed Al-Muhammadi then picked out Darren Bent, who headed in at the far post for his first goal in six matches. Despite relying on the caveman football which supposedly cost Sam Allardyce his job, Rovers had fleeting moments and El-Hadji Diouf ought to have pulled a goal back 10 minutes before the break. However, the Senegalese winger volleyed wide from three yards.
It was, manager Steve Kean thought, pivotal. "If we'd got a goal back with the Diouf chance we could have put a bit of pressure on. He was thinking of throwing his head at it. He just hesitated and leant back."
If the home fans were hoping Bent's goal would open the floodgates, they were to be disappointed. Sunderland's top-scorer missed three chances, at least one of which Harry Redknapp's wife might have converted. The first came when Bent failed to redirect a Keiran Richardson cross on goal. A wonderful Steed Malbranque centre was headed over, and an Al-Muhammadi delivery put wide.
Bent's replacement, Asamoah Gyan confirmed the inevitable with a 90th-minute goal. Jordan Henderson picked out the marauding Ghanaian, who curled a shot inside the far post.
"That result is for Sam," said Bruce of his close friend Allardyce. "I spoke to him this morning and I hope he has a drink or two on it over in Dubai."
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Malbranque
Match rating: 6/10