Sunderland fail to break down 10-man Rovers as away-day blues continue

Blackburn Rovers 0 Sunderland 0
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The Independent Football

The Wearmouth Bridge lies hard against the Stadium of Light and something seems to happen whenever Sunderland cross it. At home, on the north bank, they have beaten Manchester City and held Arsenal and Manchester United in games they might have won.

Away from home, Sunderland have won precisely twice in Steve Bruce's 14 months at the helm and those victories were at Bolton and Hull, grounds which do not represent the Premier League's great citadels.

That is why for all their excellence on Wearside – Sir Alex Ferguson, who was in the directors box last night – commented that of the five sides that have taken points from Manchester United this season, Sunderland were the only team to have deserved to – Bruce's side began the game in 15th place. They ended it 13th.

Had they exploited a one-man advantage they held for the whole of the second half, when Chris Samba was dismissed seconds before the interval, Sunderland would not have had to settle for a fifth successive draw. The last time that happened, in the 1984-85 season, they were relegated and reached the League Cup final. They are out of that competition and are far too good for a relegation scrap. They should, however, be aiming higher.

The Blackburn manager, Sam Allardyce, his suit soaked by the Pennine rain, confessed that on the final whistle "it felt like a win". He added: "We have gone through the full 45 minutes and limited Sunderland to mostly half-chances. It loses its glitter as a spectacle because we had to ask them to break us down and it became difficult to watch."

It had not exactly been caked it glitter before Samba, dawdling on the ball, was dispossessed by Danny Welbeck and responded by hauling him down just outside the area, earning a one-match ban, which Allardyce did not contest. The free-kick was blocked but Blackburn, who had hitherto been the better side, had surrendered all their room for manoeuvre.

The adverts around the ground also rather misjudged the level of glamour. They urged the crowd to visit Tanzania or the Maldives, while the back of the match programme carried an advert for Crown Paints, portraying colours that might remind the reader of "Central Park last October".

Frankly, most would have found a trip to Central Park, Wigan, more achievable and more rewarding than their journey through the rain to Blackburn. This was a belt-and-braces kind of game in a league in recession, although if Ferguson had come to Ewood Park as a distraction from the Wayne Rooney affair, his mind might occasionally have wandered.

Sunderland had two fine chances, one against 10 men when Paul Robinson reacted brilliantly to a curling drive from Asamoah Gyan, and once before Samba's dismissal when Gael Givet attempted to contest a long, upfield with Darren Bent and found himself on his backside. Bent advanced on goal but Robinson held his nerve and palmed the shot away. In the second half there was a header from Bent directed straight at Robinson's midriff and a vicious drive from Bolo Zenden that finished among the ranks of red-and-white shirts massed in the Darwen End.

"Our Achilles heel is that we can't keep relying on Darren to score us a goal," said Bruce, who had spent some of the international break at Allardyce's Spanish villa. "We have got to contribute goals from somewhere else. We have had enough attempts on goal and really we should have taken some. Blackburn were arguably better with 10."

Match facts

Possession Blackburn 50% Sunderland 50%. Shots on target Blackburn 3 Sunderland 7. Referee L Probert (Wiltshire). Att 21,894. Man of the match Robinson. Match rating 3/10