Cole fires Rovers out of drop zone

Blackburn Rovers 2 Ipswich Town 1
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The Independent Football

The day after Everton sacked his old ally, Graeme Souness saw his side climb above them, Bolton and last night's hapless opponents in the Premiership relegation battle.

Well-crafted first-half goals from Damien Duff and Andy Cole did the damage, although the final stages were more nervy than they should have been after Blackburn allowed the sluggish "Tractor Boys" to crank reluctantly into gear as the game wore on.

The result makes Blackburn's survival prospects look markedly brighter, while Ipswich's famously tough run-in might have already started. They certainly showed precious little ability to drag themselves out of the mire in the first 45 minutes, when they were fortunate to be only two goals in arrears. "We played very well in the first half, but then became nervous,'' Souness said. "They got their goal and we became even more nervous. We knew they were going to come back at us and they had a real go. I still think Ipswich will stay up.''

You would not have come to that conclusion on their first-half performance, when an offside effort from Alun Armstrong was their only shot worthy of the name. By contrast, Rovers emerged from the messy early stages with all the momentum and were sent on their way by a goal of real quality. Duff wriggled away from two markers and cut infield to put a low shot, with his less favoured right foot, past Matteo Sereni.

The second goal, two minutes before the break, was just as good in its way. Tugay Kerimoglu measured his pass through for the outstanding David Dunn, whose pull-back found Cole with his back to goal. His spin and shot on the turn was a suitable way for him to sign off for his three-match suspension.

It was a different Ipswich after the break. "I was very disappointed with the way we played in the first half,'' manager George Burley admitted. "But we showed a lot of character after that and could have got a point out of the game.'' A terrific volley on the turn from Marcus Stewart demanded a fine save from the previously unemployed Brad Friedel. From the resulting corner, sent over by Mark Venus, Stewart got his head to the ball and looped it into the net.

As Souness conceded, Ipswich had more of the possession after that, even if their main threat was confined to free-kicks within shooting range, the best of which was struck from 40 yards by Venus and needed Friedel to be in the right place. The closest anyone came to a further goal, however, was an effort from the substitute, Mark Hughes, kept out by Sereni's foot.

"It's going to be a battle to stay in there,'' Burley said. "We dominated things in the second half, but you can't afford to play for 45 minutes and give bad goals away in the Premiership.''

For Souness, there was still time to spare a thought for his old Rangers colleague, Walter Smith. "I'm sick,'' he said of the Everton sacking. "He's someone I worked with for five years. We're very good friends and I believe he's a very good manager and a quality human being. He will be back – wiser.''

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel 5; Neill 6, Berg 5, Johansson 6, Hakan 6 (Taylor, 82); Dunn 7, (Gillespie 5, 72), Flitcroft 6, Tugay 6, Duff 6; Cole 6, Yordi 5 (Hughes 5, 63). Substitutes not used: Hignett, Miller (gk).

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Sereni 6; Makin 5, McGreal 5, Hreidarsson 6, Venus 5; Magilton 5 (Peralta 4, 56), Wright 6, Holland 6, Clapham 5 (George, 80); Armstrong 4 (M Bent 4, 56), Stewart 5. Substitutes not used: Couñago, Marshall (gk).

Referee: P Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent) 6.