x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Roberts recovers to rescue the Rovers

The striker returns from a bout of swine flu to leave Portsmouth sick and down 3-1 after they took the initial lead.

BLACKBURN // Jason Roberts returned to the Rovers ranks after recovering from swine flu and left Portsmouth feeling sick. The striker was brought on as a second-half substitute and within nine minutes he had cancelled out Jamie O'Hara's opening goal for Pompey. And with 18 minutes left, Rovers' own recovery was complete when the captain Ryan Nelsen headed home the second before Roberts scored his second with four minutes remaining.

The afternoon began with the tune from the Great Escape ringing out around Ewood Park, the Ports-mouth fans being heartened by their team's recent form. Particularly significant was their form against clubs expected to be in a similar position next May. Seven points have come against Wolverhampton, Hull and then Wigan in last weekend's 4-0 home victory. Confidence is slowly being restored and Rovers saw evidence of that in the first half yesterday.

Blackburn were shackled, unable to find any fluency in their play, and then shaken when Portsmouth took the lead in the 16th minute. There seemed little threat when a throw came in from the right and Aruna Dindane touched to O'Hara 25 yards out. The midfielder, who is on loan from Tottenham, took a touch before driving in a low shot that crept into the corner of the net. It was his first Premier League goal in almost a year when he scored for Spurs at West Ham.

Paul Robinson, the Rovers goal keeper, was furious with his defence for not closing down quickly enough. That was a criticism that could not be levelled at the opposition as Paul Hart's side foraged and fought for every challenge.O'Hara epitomised that. He was determined and driven and fortunate not to be on the receiving end of a knockout blow from Pascal Chimbonda after harassing him for the ball on Rovers' right.

As they tangled, Chimbonda threw a punch at O'Hara. The referee, Andre Marriner, surprisingly cautioned both. O'Hara had quality to go with his courage, though, whipping in a dangerous 38th-minute free kick from the right that needed a crucial diving header from Brett Emerton to divert the ball out for a corner. Sam Allardyce, the Blackburn manager, could not ignore the jeers from the home followers at the break and showed his ruthlessness by hauling off Morten Gamst Pedersen and El-Hadji Diouf. In their places came Roberts and Benni McCarthy.

Suddenly, Rovers had the attacking presence they had desperately lacked and David Dunn forced David James into his first save with a low effort three minutes after the restart. After Younes Kaboul steered a header meekly over from another well-executed O'Hara free kick, the home side stepped up the pressure. It took a timely header from Frederic Piquionne to clear a Dunn free kick for a corner. But when the Rovers midfielder crossed from the subsequent set-piece, it resulted in the 54th-minute equaliser.

Nelsen rose well to knock down a header for Roberts, who turned quickly and cleverly to flick the ball home. Blackburn, who had lost just one of their last 11 home games had been revived and the momentum shifted in their favour. Roberts bullied his way into the box to create another chance, but his strike lacked the power to trouble James. Portsmouth still posed a threat, especially through O'Hara's invention, but with Dindane having to go off, his side were missing a cutting edge.

O'Hara did almost cause Robinson some embarrassment with another 25-yard effort on the wet surface. The former England No1 was grateful to gather when it nearly squeezed through between his legs. But it was Blackburn who took control. Nelsen was unmarked in the 73rd minute to meet a Dunn corner and powered in a header for only his second goal for the club. Roberts then poked in a McCarthy cross at the near-post for his second four minutes from time.

@Email:akhan@thenational.ae