Tottenham Hotspur 3 Blackburn Rovers 2: Blackburn bewildered by Keane's merry capers

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The Independent Football

Blackburn's upwardly mobile players departed the turf at White Hart Lane with an air of bewilderment after their huge contribution to a hugely entertaining match yielded them nothing. That they were unable to narrow the gap on the team two places above them in fourth place was ultimately down to the efforts of one inspired performer, Robbie Keane.

The 25-year-old Irishman has had a charmed week - named as his country's captain on Tuesday, scoring in their 3-0 win over Sweden a day later, signing a four-year contract at Spurs on Friday and, yesterday, contributing two goals before setting up the winner.

Spurs had begun hesitantly, perhaps with memories of their two recent less-than-thrilling draws, but after eight minutes Keane took advantage of uncharacteristic slackness in the Blackburn defence to give his side the lead.

The away team, with some justification, appeared to be expecting the throw-in that occurred on their left flank after their defender Ryan Nelsen's challenge on Mido to go their way. The linesman thought differently, and from Mido's swift throw, Robbie Keane cut into the Blackburn box, waltzing past two half-hearted challenges from, of all people, Robbie Savage and Andy Todd, before beating the goalkeeper from close range to claim his ninth goal of the season.

But Blackburn soon jolted their hosts' mood with a 32nd-minute move that saw Nelsen nod a header narrowly wide from a vicious cross from David Bentley.

Five minutes before the break, however, Blackburn were confounded after what seemed another harsh decision. A handball was given against Nelsen as he tried to control an awkwardly-bouncing ball just outside his box. It appeared to strike him on the shoulder, but Mido was not worrying about why he was presented with a shooting chance as he drove in a powerful effort which Brad Friedel managed only parried. As the ball bounced loose, who else but Keane should appear to finish the job?

Blackburn defenders claimed he had handled in doing so, however, and Hughes had to be shepherded back to his position after remonstrating with the match officials. Blackburn's growing sense of persecution was moderated two minutes from half-time, however, when Florent Sinama-Pongolle, on loan from Liverpool, was offered time and space to convert Craig Bellamy's right-wing cross with a diving header.

As he left the pitch, Bellamy, never backward in coming forward, appeared to question Keane about his second goal, and the Irishman indicated that the ball had reared up and hit him on the arm.

From the first moment of the second half, Blackburn battered Spurs backwards with the force of their will and the fluency of their teamplay. Just after the hour, Bentley forced Paul Robinson into a flying save with a belting shot from 35 yards. Five minutes later the visitors earned their due as Sinama-Pongolle capitalised on a mistake by Ledley King on the right and his cross was turned in Bellamy.

Spurs looked dazed. But with just 20 minutes left they restored their lead as substitute Aaron Lennon ran on to a smart pass from Keane and crossed for Mido to turn in the ball - just - from six yards. Thereafter it was hectic, with Blackburn full-back Michael Gray almost earning his side the point that was the least they deserved with a 90th-minute header on to the bar. As the final whistle went, you could feel the relief travel all round the Lane.

Goals: Keane 9 (1-0); Keane 42 (2-0); Sinama Pongolle 44 (2-1); Bellamy 67 (2-2); Mido 70 (3-2)

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Stalteri, Dawson, King, Yong-Pyo Lee; Jenas, Carrick, Davids (Lennon, 58), Tainio (Murphy, 76); Mido, Keane. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Defoe, Davenport.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Gray; Emerton (Kuqi, 83), Savage, Reid, Bentley; Bellamy, Sinama-Pongolle. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Dickov, Moekoena, Peter.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Tottenham: Lee, Mido. Blackburn: Gray, Reid, Todd.

Man of the match: Bellamy.

Attendance: 36,080.

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