South Africa striker Benni McCarthy scored twice as Blackburn Rovers began life under new manager Sam Allardyce with a 3-0 win at home to Stoke City on Saturday.
The victory was only Rovers’ fourth in 18 English Premier League matches and came just three days after former Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United boss Allardyce replaced the sacked Paul Ince. However, despite a win that ended a run of six straight defeats, Rovers remained in the relegation zone.
Elsewhere, Sunderland climbed out of the bottom three with a 4-1 win away to high-flyers Hull City. Elsewhere Fulham recorded their sixth home league win in nine games this term with a 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough, while Bolton Wanderers beat Portsmouth 2-1.
At the other end of the table, Aston Villa climbed above champions Manchester United, playing Ecuador’s Liga de Quito in today’s Club World Cup final in Tokyo, into third place after an own-goal from Australia defender Lucas Neill 12 minutes from time secured a 1-0 win away to West Ham United.
Saturday’s late kick-off at Upton Park was heading for a goalless draw until James Milner’s cross deflected off Neill and looped over keeper Robert Green. The victory moved Villa on to 34 points, two more than United, although Sir Alex Ferguson’s side do have two games in hand.
“I’m delighted to be third,” Villa manager Martin O’Neill said. “At the moment it is nice and it would be lovely to just hang in there. Points on the board are very important. But I think we’ve got a lot of work to do. [Goalkeeper] Brad Friedel had a magnificent game for us. We have a distance to go.”
A modest Allardyce played down his part in Blackburn Rovers’ win over Stoke City, telling Sky Sports: “I just tried to give the lads a few pointers, so I have made a small contribution today, but the big contribution came from the players out there. Three-nil after 27 minutes, what more do you want?”
McCarthy put Rovers ahead at Ewood Park with a ninth-minute penalty, before Jason Roberts added a second after Australia international Brett Emerton’s cross was diverted into his path. McCarthy then made it 3-0 before the half-hour mark after being played in by fellow forward Roberts.
Sunderland’s success against Hull City saw them complete back-to-back wins for the first time this season and took their tally under caretaker boss Ricky Sbragia, who took charge after Roy Keane’s departure from the Stadium of Light, to eight goals in two games following last weekend’s 4-0 thrashing of basement club West Bromwich Albion.
Sbragia was coy when asked if he wanted the manager’s job on a permanent basis, saying: “I’m enjoying it, but I am still learning.”
Steed Malbranque put visitors Sunderland ahead with a 25m shot in the 10th minute, before Nick Barmby leveled nine minutes later. However, Sunderland restored their lead in the 78th minute thanks to an own-goal from Kamil Zayatte.
Hull then saw Sam Ricketts sent-off for a second bookable offense, before Sunderland’s Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cisse both scored.
Portsmouth, who had conceded eight goals in their previous four league matches, were 2-0 down inside three minutes against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.
Former Portsmouth midfielder Matt Taylor put Bolton ahead in the first minute when he volleyed home, before setting-up Ricardo Gardner for the second. England striker Peter Crouch pulled a goal back for Portsmouth with a 20th-minute header.