Samba's forward thinking sparks Rovers

Blackburn Rovers 2 Tottenham 1
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The Independent Football

If Blackburn Rovers escape relegation from the Premier League this season, one of the pivotal reasons will have been a conversation on the training ground. Chris Samba was talking to his manager when he revealed something of his youth in France. Until he was 17 he had been a striker. Sam Allardyce was not surprised. The ball skills of his 6ft 5in centre-back were above average for a defender of his size and he had already witnessed the discomfort his height could create in an opposition area.

Nevertheless, it lodged an idea in the Blackburn manager's mind: Plan B will be big Chris as a striker.

Crude maybe, but so far it has worked. Against West Ham United two weeks ago Samba rolled forward to help his side rescue a point and in this game it was his leviathan presence that dragged Blackburn from the precipice of a desperate defeat. His bulk and pass set up Benni McCarthy's equaliser and his towering menace at the near post contributed to Heurelho Gomes' miscalculation for Andre Ooijer's 89th-minute winner. The Samba beat, you might say.

"I've had to mark him a couple of times," Ryan Nelsen, the Blackburn captain, said of his centre-back partner, "and I've felt his elbows once or twice as well. Now I get the young guys to try and mark him instead so I don't have to.

"To say he's a handful, doesn't really tell the story. He caused them a lot of problems when he went up front and he was always going to. I'm certain he would be a different sort of player to anything Ledley King or Jonathan Woodgate have marked before. He gives us something different."

He did on Saturday and in doing so perpetrated one of the great injustices of the season. A "great boost for morale" was Allardyces's verdict but his afternoon had been unremittingly grim for 82 minutes. Tottenham Hotspur, supremely prompted by Robbie Keane and Jermaine Jenas, made Blackburn look like relegation fodder and, if the referee Peter Walton had not, erroneously, sent off Wilson Palacios for a second bookable offence in the 80th minute, the north Londoners would have secured a win that would have put them on the fringe of the European places and Rovers in deep trouble.

Walton had also not distinguished himself by awarding Spurs a penalty when Gaël Givet appeared to be trying to pull his arm away from Aaron Lennon's cross but it was Palacios's departure that changed the game and led to the referee bearing the brunt of the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp's disappointment. "I said at half-time he'd try to even the game up if he could, 'so be careful'," he said. "I was right, someone got sent off."

Then, aware that further criticism might incur the wrath of the Football Association, Redknapp delivered a scathing and vicious compliment. "Bless him, he has a go, doesn't he?" Just as well the FA does not dole out fines for condescension as well as dissent.

Goals: Keane pen (30) 0-1; McCarthy (82) 1-1; Ooijer (89) 1-2.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Andrews, Samba, Nelsen, Givet; Diouf, Mokoena (Tugay, 63), Warnock, Pedersen (Dunn, 26); McCarthy, Roberts (Ooijer, h-t). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Villanueva, Treacy, Olsson.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Woodgate, King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Zokora, 83), Palacios, Jenas, Modric; Bent, Keane. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Bentley, Huddlestone, Pavlyuchenko, Dawson, Chimbonda.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Blackburn Samba; Tottenham Hotspur Palacios.

Sent off: Tottenham Palacios (80).

Man of the match: Keane.

Attendance: 21,891.