Santa Cruz sinks Pompey

Blackburn stay in race for Europe with battling win

Blackburn kept alive their faint European hopes with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Portsmouth at Fratton Park.

There was little to choose between the sides in a tight first half, although Jermain Defoe did fire narrowly wide twice just before the interval.

Blackburn started strongly after the break but goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown, starting in place of the injured David James, denied Ryan Nelsen with a spectacular save.

Ashdown could do nothing in the 74th minute when Jason Roberts fed Roque Santa Cruz and the Paraguayan finished expertly to continue his excellent form.

Portsmouth pushed for an equaliser but Rovers held on to climb above Manchester City and into eighth place.

Nervous start

Harry Redknapp's team will now have to ensure European football comes to Fratton Park for the first time by winning next month's FA Cup final against Cardiff.

James missed his first league game since joining Portsmouth in 2006 due to the calf injury he suffered last weekend, so Ashdown made a rare start.

Ashdown looked nervous in the first few minutes, fumbling a cross under pressure from Santa Cruz and Roberts, but Lassana Diarra bailed out his keeper with a hurried clearance.

Portsmouth knew only a win would keep them in the hunt for a top five finish and they started to force the pace.

Sulley Muntari's first-time shot deflected just over off team-mate Kanu. Then Muntari shot wide after Blackburn failed to clear a corner.

Ashdown gradually found his feet and saved well when David Bentley flicked a clever shot towards the top corner.


Portsmouth striker Defoe had the ball in the net a minute later after running through the centre onto a through pass by Glen Johnson only to be flagged offside.

Defoe threatened again when he found space on the edge of the area and fired a low drive just wide.

Blackburn went straight up the other end and nearly broke the deadlock when Roberts lashed in a powerful effort. Ashdown was equal to it but his parry fell for Santa Cruz, who was unable to get a shot off before being crowded out.

Ashdown had to save Portsmouth again in the 54th minute when New Zealand defender Ryan Nelsen headed Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross goalwards.

Portsmouth had a golden chance when Defoe's cross flashed into Muntari's path but the midfielder couldn't stretch to turn it in.

Killer blow

When Blackburn finally made the breakthrough in the 74th minute it was no surprise that Santa Cruz was the man to deliver the killer blow.

Pedersen's pass was flicked on by Santa Cruz to Roberts, who deftly returned the ball to his strike partner.

Santa Cruz's lethal form left little doubt about the outcome as the Paraguay forward calmly steered his shot past Ashdown.

Diarra forced Brad Friedel to make a fine save with a stoppage time header but Blackburn held on.