Manchester United let in their first goal in the Premier League in three months, but still stretched their lead at the top of the table with a 2-1 win on Saturday against an unlucky Blackburn at Old Trafford.
England striker Wayne Rooney put United ahead in the 23rd minute.
However, after 1,337 minutes — more than 22 hours — without a dent in their goals against column, United’s defense was pierced after the half-hour mark.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, presumably with an eye on tomorrow’s last 16 Champions League clash with Inter, opted to play Tomasz Kuszczak in goal rather than Edwin van der Sar, who recently broke the British record for most minutes without conceding a league goal.
But Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz, released by Andre Ooijer’s pass, rounded Kuszczak before finishing from a tight angle.
Rovers, belying their status as a bottom three club, nearly went ahead just before the hour mark when New Zealand defender Ryan Nelsen hit the post with a well-struck shot. Two minutes later United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, booked for diving by referee Howard Webb after having escaped a yellow card for kicking out earlier, made it 2-1 with a brilliant curling free-kick from the left edge of the box.
Rovers were then denied a legitimate penalty when Morten Gamst Pedersen was pulled back in the box by fullback Rafael da Silva.
Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce was furious with Webb’s refusal to award a penalty for Rafael’s challenge on Pedersen.
“Sir Alex doesn’t think it is a penalty, but I think it is. It has to be pretty blatant to get a penalty here at Old Trafford. We all know that. For me, it is a big disappointment because the lads put up a really good fight,” he said.
Earlier, Guus Hiddink enjoyed a winning start as Chelsea manager after Nicolas Anelka’s goal clinched a 1-0 victory at Aston Villa.
Hiddink, appointed after Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked recently, saw Anelka’s 19th minute finish from Frank Lampard’s pass lift Chelsea above Villa into third place.
Hiddink, who is combining his work at Chelsea with his job as Russia manager, downplayed suggestions he’d inherited a divided dressing room.
“I did not see what sometimes is suggested about this big division. I have analyzed it rather well,” said the Dutchman, who has made it clear he will only be at Chelsea until the end of the season.
Arsenal’s goalless draw at home to Sunderland left them six points off the top four and struggling to qualify for the Champions League.
This was the Gunners’ third straight goalless league draw and manager Arsene Wenger did not hide his frustration at Sunderland’s approach.
“Like everybody who comes here, they put one striker up front and that’s it,” the Frenchman said. “If everybody plays like that it will be very boring in the Premier League.”
TWO TO TWO
James Beattie was Stoke City’s hero as they moved two points clear of the relegation zone with a 2-2 draw at home to fellow strugglers Portsmouth. Beattie scored twice as Stoke came from behind in a match where all four goals arrived in the final 15 minutes.
Bolton scored twice in two minutes as they beat West Ham 2-1.
Long-range specialist Matt Taylor curled in a free-kick from 22 yards before Kevin Davies made it 2-0. West Ham pulled a goal back through Scott Parker in the 66th minute.
Middlesbrough remained in the bottom three after a goalless home draw with Wigan Athletic.