Roberts fails to put boot in

Sunderland 0 Blackburn Rovers 0
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The Independent Online

A game bad enough to throw a shoe at ended in the appropriate manner with Blackburn Rovers' Jason Roberts staring at his right foot. It was in disbelief after the Rovers striker missed an open net soon after the fourth official's board had shown there were three minutes of added time. A Blackburn goal then, as Sam Allardyce said, "and there was no coming back for Sunderland". But somehow Roberts placed a 10-yard shot two feet wide with no one in front of him. In doing so, Roberts sold 44,000 and his new manager Sam Allardyce a Boxing Day dummy.

"We're disappointed to say the least, unfortunately there was a bobble on it," a rueful Allardyce explained afterwards. Rovers' manager of a week had already raised his arms in celebration as Roberts struck for goal: "I was up and dancing. A bobble has cost us a fantastic win."

As was expected, Allardyce found consolation in a clean sheet, Rovers' second under him in the week since he succeeded Paul Ince at Ewood Park. "We've got an unbeaten run going as well," Allardyce said. Both of those records will be tested by Manchester City's visit to Ewood Park tomorrow.

"Some good, solid organised defending and some very good chances," Allardyce added, "it's four points out of six and that's the basis to get us out of this relegation battle that we're in."

He could claim with some legitimacy that Rovers' second-half display merited victory more than all the efforts of Sunderland throughout.

The hosts' keeper Marton Fulop may have gone AWOL on the Roberts' opportunity but earlier had made a fine save in tipping a Morten Gamst Pedersen free-kick on to the post. That was on 54 minutes; five more and Fulop was blocking a Keith Andrews effort as Blackburn began to thread some passes together for the first time.

Sunderland had had the better of the first half with Andy Reid, Steed Malbranque and Kenwyne Jones all prominent. But it was without forcing Paul Robinson into real activity and after the interval they became predictable. A trip to Everton, where they lost 7-1 last season, will be a test tomorrow.

"It's three games unbeaten," said the Sunderland caretaker Ricky Sbragia, "and if we come out of Everton unbeaten I'll be happy. I knew this was going to be difficult, they'd have a narrow defence. We lost our patience a little bit but I thought we deserved a draw."

A month ago, Sbragia agreed, this was the sort of game Sunderland were losing. Roy Keane has gone the way of Ince and some luck has returned. There was the deflection that gave Sunderland a 2-1 lead at Hull last Saturday and then yesterday's aberration from Roberts. But soon that will run out and Sunderland are only two points above the relegation zone.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Fulop; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Collins; Malbranque, Tainio (Whitehead, 62) Richardson (Leadbitter, 81) Reid; Jones, Cissé (Murphy, 81). Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Chimbonda, Edwards, Diouf.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Ooijer, Nelsen (Mokoena, 90) Samba, Warnock; Emerton, Andrews, Dunn (Tugay, 62) Pedersen; McCarthy (Derbyshire, 88) Roberts. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Olsson, Treacy, Khizanishvili.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Blackburn Ooijer, McCarthy, Samba.

Man of the match: Samba.

Attendance: 44,460.

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