Blackburn 2 Sunderland 0
Craig Bellamy struck twice as Blackburn got their European bid back on track at the expense of Barclays Premiership bottom side Sunderland.
The Welshman scored in each half at Ewood Park to lift Rovers, after two successive defeats, up to seventh in the table.
Sunderland were competitive at least until Bellamy hit his second in the 63rd minute but defeat leaves them a miserable eight points adrift.
The Wearsiders contributed fully to an open encounter but, despite a number of chances, they could not threaten Brad Friedel’s goal.
Rovers always had a sharper cutting edge and Bellamy could have completed a hat-trick three minutes from time but his fierce drive from the edge of the area rebounded off a post.
Blackburn made by far the brighter start and Florent Sinama Pongolle, the French striker on loan from Liverpool, was soon into the action on his home debut.
Sinama Pongolle had the first real chance of the match in the fourth minute but his volley curled wide after Gary Breen’s headed clearance fell his way.
Sunderland had their first opportunity when Julio Arca shot over from distance and Nyron Nosworthy also spurned a good chance when he raced into the area unchallenged after 20 minutes.
The right-back had a good angle to shoot but he tried to pull the ball back and his pass ran across goal to safety.
Morten Gamst Pedersen, returning after missing the weekend defeat at Everton through injury, gave Sunderland a scare when his 28th-minute corner curled in dangerously and bounced off the crossbar.
Rovers were awarded another corner from that as referee Keith Stroud, making his Premiership debut, ruled Kelvin Davis had touched the ball with his fingertips but it came to nothing.
Sunderland again went close after another good break 10 minutes before the interval but Liam Lawrence could not make solid contact as Kevin Kyle whipped in a cross from the left.
Both sides had had their chances but it was Rovers who took the lead as Bellamy pounced from six yards on 37 minutes.
Davis was wrong-footed as a Pedersen shot was deflected by Nosworthy and Bellamy made no mistake as the ball bounced across goal.
Lawrence had another chance on the stroke of half-time but Michael Gray, playing against his former club, did well to block his shot.
Rovers could have doubled their lead within two minutes of the restart as Gray swung in a deep cross from the left but Davis saved well from Steven Reid’s header.
Pedersen also fired a free-kick straight at Davis before being replaced by Sergio Peter on 53 minutes.
At the other end Friedel was tested when Grant Leadbitter struck a fierce shot but his effort would not have counted anyway as he was offside.
Lawrence was again frustrated moments later as a Julio Arca cross just bounced out of his reach and Sunderland’s hopes of snatching a point were hit soon after as Bellamy grabbed his second.
Tugay picked out Peter with a crossfield ball and Bellamy finished off a sweeping move as he powerfully headed home the German’s cross.
Reid went close to a third for Rovers two minutes later when he shot over from a free-kick just outside the area.
Jon Stead entered the fray on his old ground after 67 minutes and sensed a chance within moment but could not get on the end of a cross from the left.
Stead is still awaiting his first goal in Sunderland colours since his move from Rovers last summer and his frustration goes on.
Sunderland eventually ran out of steam and Bellamy could have capped a fine individual performance with a third late on but, although his powerful effort beat Davis, the post saved the visitors further damage.
The game ended with Sunderland’s small band of supporters booing and calling for the resignation of chairman Bob Murray.