Sunderland 1 Blackburn Rovers 2: Vintage Bentley raises Rovers' aim

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The Independent Online

Arsenal seem to be on the nation's brain and, in the case of Sunderland, it is understandable – north London is where the Wearsiders go on Sunday. It is a thought served chilled. Hot and cold is how David Bentley blows when he thinks of his time at Highbury, but it is a measure of Arsenal's depth that Bentley was permitted to go after just one league game in five years.

Bentley was symbolic of the difference between Blackburn and Sunderland on Saturday and scored the breakthrough goal eight minutes after half-time.

Playing between midfield and Roque Santa Cruz, Bentley was responsible for many of the "good angles" Mark Hughes spoke of and, not a shy boy, you could see what Bentley was getting at afterwards when he said: "I was compared to Dennis Bergkamp when I was a young lad. But you have to be your own man and own person. I don't have any regrets about leaving there and I am building myself a successful career. If I was there I might be 24 and still getting 10 games a season. I am delighted I did leave."

Bergkamp and Bentley both fit Arsène Wenger's intriguing "playerish" description of his current charges and for all the accusations from Arsenal and Chelsea in recent years about Blackburn's physicality, they can play.

"It is [fair] in some ways," Bentley said when Rovers were compared to Arsenal. "We have pace and quality all over the park. Everyone in the team wants the ball. We can be a top team."

The win took Blackburn to sixth on Saturday and they now have increased belief going into Thursday's second leg of their Uefa Cup tie against Larissa. A 2-0 deficit has to be overcome but, having left out Benni McCarthy and with Morten Gamst Pedersen and Robbie Savage on the bench, Hughes has fresh legs and minds to call on.

Hughes was notably upbeat after this win, yet he also knew that Sunderland had contributed to their defeat with two defensive blunders from which Bentley and Santa Cruz scored.

Having sprinted from the back of the Championship field to promotion in nine months, Sunderland are struggling to create some breathing space at this higher level. Sixth from bottom now, the season looks like being a battle with those around them. There is no sense of panic or gloom as yet, and had Grant Leadbitter's 90th-minute goal come five minutes earlier, the end might have been different. There was a first use of the word "relegation" from Danny Higginbotham. It has to be seen in context though. "I've been at [relegated] Derby and [relegated] Southampton in this league," he said, "but this club feels completely different, like a club that's on the up. We'll do well this season, I really think that. Everybody is learning, the most important thing is we do it quickly."

Goals: Bentley (53) 0-1; Santa Cruz (55) 0-2; Leadbitter (90) 1-2.

Sunderland (4-4-2) Gordon; McShane, Nosworthy, Higginbotham, Collins; Leadbitter, Yorke (Murphy, 66), Miller, Wallace (Connolly, 65); Chopra (O'Donovan 66), Jones. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Harte.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-1-1) Friedel; Emerton, Samba, Ooijer, Warnock; Derbyshire (Pedersen, 66), Tugay (Savage, 75), Mokoena, Dunn (Rigters, 86); Bentley; Santa Cruz. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Khizanishvili.

Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Sunderland Collins.

Man of the match: Bentley.

Attendance: 41,252.

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