Blackburn Rovers edged closer to safety with a solid performance and a margin of victory that was lent a flattering gloss by Yakubu Ayegbeni's late goal. If the game itself was undistinguished no one at Ewood was complaining. Junior Hoilett may be leaving at the end of the season but his second-half strike set up a win that puts six points of daylight between the home side and the relegation positions, and with no one in the bottom three looking capable of climbing out Blackburn are breathing a little easier.
"Not just back-to-back wins but back-to-back clean sheets," said Steve Kean, reflecting on a marked improvement. "There is still a lot of football to be played but we feel we are making progress. It is encouraging because I have been saying all season that we could turn it round and send the fans home happy."
Sunderland were uninspired for an hour but were fighting hard for an equaliser when Yakubu struck to put the result beyond doubt, the substitute Ji Dong-won having missed the best chance of the game a few minutes earlier. "We lacked the intensity of Saturday, we reached no heights whatsoever," Martin O'Neill said. "Ji is very disappointed with himself but he's not a bad lad and he hadn't been on the pitch for long. We didn't create enough chances."
By midway through the first half Blackburn were doing most of the attacking, though it was only through set pieces, long throws or free-kicks from Morten Gamst Pedersen that they managed to get into threatening situations. While neither goalkeeper was particularly busy in the first half, Paul Robinson was grateful to see Fraizer Campbell expertly dispossessed by Grant Hanley just as the Sunderland striker was about to unleash a shot from close to the penalty spot. That was about as close as the first half came to a goal, apart from an early effort from Yakubu that Phil Bardsley cleared acrobatically off the line. Sunderland had succeeded in pushing Blackburn further back by the interval but the only half chances that came their way both fell to Sotirios Kyrgiakos, whose finishing has not improved since leaving Liverpool.
Mercifully both teams brought a touch more urgency to the second half. Yakubu got on the end of a sweeping Blackburn attack but could not turn in time to release a shot, then Mauro Formica did manage a shot on the turn, only to see Simon Mignolet dive to his right to punch it away. Campbell broke through the middle for Sunderland, playing James McClean into space on the left, though when the cross came it was much too high for Nicklas Bendtner.
The game's decisive moment came just before the hour and predictably involved Pedersen and Hoilett, the home side's best players. Pedersen hoisted a long throw into the box from the left and the hapless Kyrgiakos cleared straight to Hoilett, who returned a shot through a crowd of players from the edge of the area.
Blackburn lived dangerously and were indebted to Martin Olsson for a well-timed challenge on the goalline that prevented Bendtner equalising from McClean's cross before Ji stabbed too high with the goal at his mercy 10 minutes from time. Then Bradley Orr found Yakubu free for a close-range header and Blackburn felt the clouds lifting. "We feel we are starting to look up rather than down," Kean said. "We may be able to catch a few of the teams ahead of us but first we would like to reach the required number of points as quickly as possible and look forward to enjoying the summer."