Rovers need Santa Cruz to get up to speed – and fast

Blackburn 1 Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Football

It was meant to be a dream reunion, but it's turning into a nightmare for Blackburn Rovers and Roque Santa Cruz. He arrived on loan with such fanfare upon his return to Ewood Park in November. Yet nine games on the Paraguayan striker has yet to find the net.

Blackburn have slipped into trouble and this draw extended their winless run to eight. When they needed a goal on Saturday the only cheers that went up were to greet Santa Cruz's exit on the hour mark. Perhaps missing a golden chance that he would have snapped up in his prime was behind the substitution, but supporters are certainly losing patience with the man who was sold to Manchester City two years ago for £17.5m.

"All I know is that Roque is a quality player," said the Blackburn manager, Steve Kean. "But he has not played a lot of football. He has taken a bit of time to get up to speed and he has picked up a couple of injuries."

Lee Bowyer gave Birmingham the 32nd-minute lead and if Sebastian Larsson's free-kick hadn't bounced off the post it could have been a different story. But an error from Liam Ridgewell saw Junior Hoilett nip in before rounding Ben Foster for the leveller seven minutes into first-half injury time.

The rest of the game was a non-event, with the best chance falling to Santa Cruz, but his close-range header bounced off the bar and he was replaced before the worrying sight of Hoilett limping off with a hamstring injury.

The Birmingham manager, Alex McLeish, praised goalscorer Bowyer and claimed the veteran midfielder could soon be naming his price on a new contract. "I never thought about not giving him a new deal," he said. "He's very important to me in this run-in because his experience is vital and his form has been terrific."

Scorers: Blackburn Hoilett 45 Birmingham Bowyer 32 Substitutes: Blackburn Roberts 6 (Nelsen, 34), Benjani 6 (Santa Cruz, 63), Emerton 6 (Hoi-lett, 69). Birmingham Davies (Johnson, h-t).

Booked: Blackburn Olsson, J Jones. Birmingham Carr, Larsson, Gardner.

Man of match Ferguson. Match rating 3/10.

Possession Blackburn 51% Birm'ham 49%.

Shots on target Blackburn 5 Birm'ham 6.

Referee C Foy (Merseyside). Att 28,426.