West Brom 2 Blackburn 0
Blackburn manager Mark Hughes’ words of inspiration for once fell on deaf ears as West Brom let out a roar of defiance to their latest relegation plight.
First-half goals from captain Kevin Campbell and Jonathan Greening gave boss Bryan Robson’s side another priceless victory to move the Baggies six points clear of the Barclays Premiership relegation zone.
But it was a surprisingly toothless display from Blackburn, despite Hughes’ demands that Wednesday’s enthralling 4-3 victory at home to Manchester United was not wasted.
In the aftermath, Sir Alex Ferguson accused Rovers of reverting to their old dirty tricks of persistently fouling, despite the statistics showing Rovers ’sinned’ just four more times than United.
Hughes felt Ferguson’s criticisms were harsh and had set his side back in their bid to rid themselves of the ’bully-boy’ attached to them last season.
It was not until injury-time referee Chris Foy dished out the only bookings of the game to Rovers substitute Sergio Peter and Ronnie Wallwork for a ’handbags’ shoving match.
Prior to that, Blackburn showed none of their customary fight and tenacity, making it all too easy for Albion, especially in the first half.
Rovers came into the match on the back of a glorious run which had seen them win five and draw one of their previous six Premiership games.
The euphoria of their enthralling win over should have spilled over into this encounter.
Instead, Hughes’ side appeared drained, notably of ideas as Albion were as well drilled in defence as they were adept in attack.
After Tomasz Kuszczak had comfortably held a low 22-yard drive from Shefki Kuqi inside three minutes, it was then nearly all Albion for the remainder of the opening 45 minutes.
Robson was left aghast at the sixth minute miss from Campbell, the veteran striker sidefooting wide from inside the six-yard box a low ball into the near post from Greening.
However, Robson’s angst and Campbell’s frustration was short-lived as the home side swept into the lead less than 60 seconds later.
Credit primarily goes to Junichi Inamoto for a stunning cross-field ball into the forward’s path, giving the covering Rovers defenders no time to react.
It allowed Campbell to take the ball under control and fire past Brad Friedel in one flowing movement for only his second goal of the season, and first for two months.
Buoyed by their early success and first league goal for 214 minutes, the Baggies swept forward with verve and vigour, forcing Blackburn into a hole.
Greening forced Friedel into a full-stretch save from a powerful 20-yard drive, while Inamoto embarked on a surging run which left Ryan Nelsen in his wake before unleashing an angled left-foot shot that shaved the left-hand post.
Blackburn’s moments of light relief were fleeting before Albion took full advantage of their startling supremacy with a deserved second in the 32nd minute.
For Greening, it was a rare moment to savour, although he can thank Michael Gray for hopelessly hacking the ball onto the midfielder.
Gray’s attempt at a clearance from the right touchline and from deep inside his own half looped its way to Greening, standing five yards outside the area.
The control encompassed a little bit of everything, initially with his right foot, then his head, followed by his left thigh before a left-foot half-volley that seared its way into the top right-hand corner beyond Friedel for his first goal for five months.
With their best chance of the half, Rovers came close to reducing the deficit a minute later.
Careful approach play resulted in Wednesday’s hat-trick hero against United in David Bentley curling a 20-yard effort a fraction wide of the angle of bar and post.
By the half-time break it was clear Hughes was in desperate need of a spark, resulting in Brett Emerton replacing Tugay at the interval, and then Florent Sinama Pongolle taking over from Kuqi in the 54th minute.
Although Rovers then took over the lion’s share of possession, there remained a lack of creativity until midway through the half.
A sliding Robbie Savage came within inches of steering home from six yards a curling Reid cross.
Although Morten Gamst Pedersen was at the far post to pick up the pieces, the end result was a cushioned header across the face of goal from the Norway winger, instead of a thump into the net.
Such was Rovers’ failure up front, Kuszczak’s only notable save did not come until the 88th minute, when he denied Sinama Pongolle.