Sunderland obviously had their minds elsewhere at Ewood Park on Tuesday night. The Black Cats never really turned up against a Blackburn side who didn’t need to be asked twice as they showed the hunger of a side fighting to avoid relegation. The goals came courtesy of Junior Hoilett and Yakubu and give Rovers much needed breathing space just above the relegation zone. Their first win in eight against Sunderland means they remain isolated fifth from bottom, but crucially six points clear of 17th place. Martin O’Neill’s side will now turn their attention to a FA Cup replay against Everton next Tuesday, with Stéphane Sessègnon to return from suspension, and he could inspire the Black Cats to glory.
There is no doubt that Sunderland and Ireland have unearthed a gem in the shape of James McClean. Tuesday night was further evidence that the former Derry winger has got all the right attributes to go to the very top of the game. Comparisons are now being drawn with the likes of Gareth Bale, but the 22-year-old left-sided midfielder has a long way to go before he can be mentioned in the same sentence as the Welsh starlet. McClean’s inability to make a consistent impact on the game for the full 90 minutes is a real worry. He floundered for periods of the match, but looked brilliant at other stages. The recently capped Republic of Ireland international could be considered a one-trick pony as he attacks solely down the wing with one aim – to hit an early cross. Some may say it’s being direct, yet you could argue it’s one-dimensional. One thing is certain, McClean needs to find a level of consistency.
Not Mary-Kate and Ashley, but Martin and Marcus Olsson are currently the toast of north-west England. The duo were a constant threat against Sunderland, and their telepathy caused Seb Larsson and Phil Bardsley all sorts of trouble down the Sunderland right wing. The 23-year-olds look to have big futures in the game as their intricate play can pose problems for even the most accomplished of defenders. The fact Bardsley was probably Sunderland’s best player in the game highlights how effectual they were – the former United defender had to be at his very best. Martin was snapped up in 2005 when he came to Blackburn on trial, and though Marcus failed to impress on that occasion, he instead earned a move to Ewood Park with his form at Swedish side Halmstad, and subsequently was purchased last summer.
Despite being so close to the relegation zone, Rovers have not been in such a healthy state of affairs for a long time. Last night they fielded three of products of their youth products to highlight the enormous amount of work which is going on at grassroots level. Jason Lowe, Grant Hanley and Hoilett were all accomplished performers as Blackburn produced a dominant performance. They are now starting to see the fruits of their labour all those years ago, and are starting to assemble a good squad. The team is full of youthful vigour with an added the bit of experience. If Blackburn can hold onto to their younger players, and of course avoid relegation, there is no reason why they can’t push well up the table next season.
Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane on Saturday, but the midfielder made progress on Tuesday, recognising his family though remaining in intensive care. At Ewood Park, he was given fantastic support from both supporters. All through the game chants of his name resounded around the venue, while fans held up banners in an attempt to offer support to the stricken footballer. Yakubu unveiled a t-shirt which read ‘Pray 4 Muamba’ following his goal in Rovers’ 2-0 win, and appropriately, referee Martin Atkinson did not caution the Nigerian striker for his goal celebration.
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