Saha takes advantage of Blackburn's back trouble

Everton 3 Blackburn Rovers 0
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The Independent Football

Because of his bloody and terminal falling-out with Alan Shearer, Ruud Gullit is seen on Tyneside as the epitome of misrule – a Richard III in a tracksuit. And yet the Dutchman was responsible for two of Newcastle's smarter transfer moves, bringing the princely talents of Kieron Dyer to St James' Park and seeing the potential in a young tearaway striker called Louis Saha.

It is more than 10 years since Saha came to Newcastle from Metz and, but for constant injury, he might have had some of the impact of Thierry Henry, whom he matched for pace if not finishing. He, nevertheless, averaged half a goal for every game he started for Manchester United and yesterday scored his fifth and sixth of the season for Everton. And yet when David Moyes brought him to Goodison Park, it was seen as a risk and the fact that in four and a half years at Old Trafford, Saha only began 52 league matches, is the reason why.

"I have not worked with loads of great players as a manager but in terms of sheer ability, he is the best I have come across," Moyes remarked after a comfortable victory over a Blackburn side that wilfully ignored their own manager's instructions on defending set-pieces. "Even when I was at Celtic, I didn't play with anyone who could do what Louis can do.

"We have probably worked him as hard as he has ever been worked in his career but we have only played him when we have known his body can take it. Now I think he is very keen to show people he is not injury-prone."

Having been dismissed in Thursday night's victory over AEK Athens, who were even more defensively inept than Blackburn, two neatly-taken goals were a quick riposte. However, Sam Allardyce, who had spent Saturday drilling his side in defending set-plays in general and Leighton Baines' dead-ball kicks in particular, might have saved his breath. Saha anticipated Baines' free-kick faster than Michel Salgado and the result fast-tracked Blackburn towards their seventh successive away defeat in the League.

The remaining goals did not become any easier for Allardyce to take. Marouane Fellaini's cross seemed to hang in the air before Saha's header powered it past goalkeeper Paul Robinson while Ryan Nelsen's scuffed attempt to clear Baines' corner presented Joseph Yobo with an opportunity from three yards that not even a centre-half could spurn. But for Robinson, one of the most lasting victims of the collapse of Steve McClaren's England, the rout might have been complete.

If Allardyce thought his efforts in dragging Blackburn away from relegation would be rewarded by a calmer second season at Ewood Park, he is likely to be disappointed. They have all the ingredients to mirror the successful unit Allardyce forged at Bolton – players like Pascal Chimbonda and El-Hadji Diouf sobering up in the last-chance saloon; old stagers like Salgado brought to Lancashire from more glamorous surrounds; and all mixed in with some hard tackling. And yet a failure to score in three of their five matches and a solitary win over Wolves suggest it is not yet gelling. "That is what we are like away from home, unfortunately," Allardyce sighed. "Everton's first goal was a basic set-play but none of the defenders decided to defend properly and Saha was given an easy tap-in. We fell asleep on a cross and then at a corner. Nothing you do in a game of football matters unless you defend correctly.

"I spent all Saturday on the training ground telling them this," he added. "I can't show or tell them any more. We had two full-blown chances to score and when you hit the bar from a yard [as Diouf did], it is poor finishing.

"We are in the Carling Cup on Tuesday at Forest. There are plenty of shirts available now and it won't take much for them to get into the team."

Diouf was later questioned by police after allegations that he made racist comments to a ball-boy. Midway through the first half Diouf is said to have gone over to the touchline and shouted abuse at a white ball-boy.

Everton (4-1-4-1): Howard; Heitinga, Yobo, Distin, Baines; Rodwell; Osman (Gosling, 83), Fellaini, Cahill (Hibbert, 77), Pienaar; Saha (Jo, 74). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Yakubu, Agard, Wallace.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Robinson; Chimbonda, Givet (Nelsen, h-t), Samba, Salgado (Kalinic, 62); Diouf, Grella, Andrews, Dunn, Pedersen (Hoilett, 51); Roberts. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Emerton, McCarthy, N'Zonzi.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Booked: Everton Heitinga; Blackburn Rovers Dunn, Diouf.

Man of the match: Saha.

Attendance: 35,546.

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