BLACKBURN // When two hulking central defenders score from two set-pieces to determine a match, it is rarely a game for the purist. When a side has not won since November, it does not matter. For Sam Allardyce, this was respite. Blackburn's first victory in 10 Premier League games came courtesy of Christopher Samba and Ryan Nelsen, two men who prevent goals more often than they score then. The pressure on their manager was alleviated, their descent towards the relegation zone halted.
While reports of his imminent sacking were inaccurate and even though there is no obvious successor lurking, it nevertheless represented a vital victory. Allardyce's position is under greater scrutiny than at any point in his 13-month reign. A combination of unappealing football and unimpressive results has resulted in a section of the Rovers support turning against him. Yet while the first banner demanding Allardyce's dismissal was unveiled before kick-off, there were no chants aimed at him. That is the difference a win makes.
"It has sent everybody home happy," Allardyce said. "I was sat next to the chairman first half and that was tense. The pressure is felt by us all and none more than me and the players." Victory was secured by the defensive duo but supplied by Allardyce's bête noire, who crea-ted both goals and almost scored himself. Benni McCarthy's has admitted he is contemplating a move in the current transfer window and his relationship with Allardyce isn't always amicable.
Yet in a squad desperately short of firepower and creativity, the 32-year-old offers both. His recall was one of four changes which, with defender Martin Olsson starting in midfield and Steven Reid beginning a first league game in 16 months, suggested either desperation or inspiration. The outcome indicates it may have been the latter. "Benni is a delicate situation for us," said Allardyce, which fell rather short of a resounding endorsement. But after a desperately uneventful opening, he brought the game to life.
First McCarthy controlled Samba's long ball beautifully and unleashed a fierce half-volley that Mark Schwarzer did well to tip over. Then the combination of the South African and the Congolese brought the breakthrough. McCarthy took the subsequent corner and, while Damien Duff prevented it going in at the near post, his stabbed clearance only went as far as Samba, and bounced into the net. "An unfortunate goal to concede," reflected Roy Hodgson.
A second set-piece brought a second goal. McCarthy's free kick found an unmarked Nelsen, who glanced the ball in from six yards. "He is our second highest scorer," noted Allardyce, upset about his forwards' contributions. "We are upset about it because we thought it was an offside goal," added Hodgson. His side had almost levelled in spectacular fashion. When Reid headed Danny Murphy's free-kick into his path, Clint Dempsey chested the ball up and attemp-ted an overhead kick that thudded back off the Blackburn bar.
But an afternoon that promised much for him ended awkwardly. "We fear it might a cruciate ligament injury, in which case he will be out for a while," said Hodgson. That while may incorporate the rest of the season, as well as the World Cup. Relief for Allardyce came with pain for Dempsey. Man of the match: Benni McCarthy @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org