Majestic McCarthy gives Allardyce perfect start

Blackburn Rovers 3 Stoke City 0
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The Independent Online

You see in the small details precisely why Sam Allardyce is a man to have about you when the boat has sprung a leak. It isn't just the way that, with a job to do, he refused to milk the inaugural moment at Ewood Park on Saturday but in how he had gathered his players together at a hotel in Preston a few hours earlier.

They had planned to travel to Ewood Park in their cars, but Allardyce decided they would meet up, talk and take a coach up the A677 to work – together. "It is not something we will do every week but every little helps in the game," Allardyce reflected later.

There was no blinding flash of light out there on the Ewood grass and if Allardyce's predecessor Paul Ince caught the game this weekend he may reflect that, a touch more defensive resilience aside, his team did pretty much what they usually do and got lucky. But his former players are suggesting Allardyce is already making a difference. "I don't want to be seen to be saying negative things about the past manager. I thought he was a nice guy," said Jason Roberts. But the striker said Allardyce had "done things differently already" and Benni McCarthy, who does have an axe to grind after Ince gave him just three starts, spelt it out.

"It was clear how we have to play," McCarthy said. "We were back doing things we used to do in previous years. Things we did under Mark Hughes and things we forgot how to do. Everyone went out and put their shirt on and said they would sweat blood." Three goals in the first 27 minutes might not have been the outcome had the lofted Ibrahima Sonko ball which looped over Paul Robinson not grazed the crossbar. But Allardyce's focus meant he and the players had limited all their pre-match planning to how to defend against Stoke and there were certainly, as Roberts put it, "a few cuts and bruises and people coming off with bloodied noses" at 5pm.

Mind you, even Allardyce isn't sure if he possesses the powers to lift McCarthy back to the heights he reached two seasons ago, when only Didier Drogba scored more Premier League goals. "I hope I can continue to drag that amount of quality out of him from now until the end of the season," Allardyce said. "I am only interested in the player playing to his full potential. If he does not do that, then his position becomes at risk."

The rewards were there to see in McCarthy's marvellous play – flicking the ball into the penalty area that Morten Gamst Pedersen was heading for when felled for the penalty, which the South African converted; providing something similar for Roberts to chase; and converting the rebound on his 100th Rovers appearance.

It's hard to imagine a man of Allardyce's mind wanting to mess around too long with Roque Santa Cruz, though. The striker lasted five minutes of his new manager's first training session and announced in a radio interview on Friday he wanted a bigger club. It will be out of the frying pan to Manchester City – Rovers can live without him. "I know Roque well enough not to start shouting my mouth off but [Benni and I] have done all right today," was how Roberts so modestly put it.

The £20m would buy Allardyce four men to make Rovers more solid but it's Tony Pulis who needs them most. They look like a team heading down. Big Sam's ship already looks like it's floating the other way.

Goals: McCarthy pen (9) 1-0; Roberts (18) 2-0; McCarthy (27) 3-0

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock; Emerton (Simpson, 85), Dunn (Kerimoglu, 70), Andrews, Pedersen; McCarthy (Derbyshire, 79), Roberts. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk) Khizanishvili, Mokoena, Judge.

Stoke City (4-4-2) Simonsen; Shawcross, Sonko, Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham; Delap (Soares, 59), Whelan, Amdy Faye (Olofinjana, 75), Cresswell; Fuller, Pericard (Tonge, 59) Substitutes not used: Sorensen (gk), Pugh, Davies, Wilkinson.

Booked: Stoke City Amdy Faye, Cresswell.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Man of the match: McCarthy.

Attendance: 23,004.

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