David Bentley hit the first Premiership hat-trick against Manchester United as Blackburn held on for a famous victory. Bentley struck after Edwin van der Sar parried Morten Gamst Pedersen’s free-kick before Louis Saha equalised with a shot across goal. A mix-up between Rio Ferdinand and Van der Sar saw Bentley strike again before Lucas Neill converted a penalty. Bentley drilled home a half-volley before Ruud van Nistelrooy struck twice in five minutes and Ferdinand saw red. Dennis Bailey was the last player to score three goals against United in a league match – doing so for QPR at Old Trafford in the old Division One on New Year’s Day 1992.
But Bentley matched his feat in a pulsating game that went from end to end, providing the sizeable crowd with a thrilling evening’s entertainment on a cold night. The result means that United slip further behind leaders Chelsea, who are now 15 points clear at the summit of the Premiership. Mark Hughes’ Rovers have now beaten United twice in the Premiership this season and have some measure of revenge after last week’s defeat in the Carling Cup.
United crafted the better openings during a physical start to the match, Saha volleying inches wide after a cross from Rooney. But in Pedersen Blackburn have a potent weapon when shooting from distance and it took an amazing one-handed Van der Sar save to prevent the Norwegian from scoring with Rovers’ first real effort at goal. Unfortunately for Van der Sar he could not prevent Bentley’s follow-up from dribbling over the line. Brad Friedel then made a superb save to deny Rooney but, as with Van der Sar, he could not stop the rebound – Saha’s strike across goal nestling in the bottom corner.
Ferdinand had been impressive in midfield but a lack of communication saw him head Shefki Kuqi’s flick towards goal as Van der Sar closed in to collect the ball. Bentley was left with the simplest of finishes, smashing the ball into an open net for his second goal in six minutes. The half got worse for United when Steven Reid’s cross was handled by Brown in injury time and Neill sent Van der Sar the wrong way. Rooney almost pulled a goal back minutes after the restart with a firm strike from 14 yards but Friedel got down well to his right. It was Rovers who struck next – Bentley completing his hat-trick after Robbie Savage picked him out in far too much space inside the United penalty area.
Van Nistelrooy, on as a substitute, scored his 20th goal of the season from a matter of yards after a costly slip from Andy Todd allowed Ronaldo to pick out his team-mate with a low cross.
It certainly made MU fans sit up and wonder if Man United weren’t once again paying the price for tinkering with the team selection- not just in the case of RVN, but also sidelining the in-form Ji-Sung Park after his tremendous display against Wolves in the FA Cup. Bentley might have scored his fourth but Van der Sar saved at his feet before Van Nistelrooy further reduced the deficit. Rovers pushed out after defending their area but a clever flick from Brown sent Van Nistelrooy clear and he drilled the ball past Friedel. The evening’s drama had not finished and Ferdinand was dismissed after picking up his second yellow card for a challenge on Savage. And Blackburn should have scored a fifth during the six minutes of second-half injury time but Kuqi shot wide from 12 yards.
Sir Alex didn’t seem too depressed after the game, prefering to hit out at Blackburn. In his interview with Sky Sports, he said:
“I think our performance was terrific but mistakes at the back cost us. We dominated the first half but we were down 3-1 at the break. In fairness to the players they kept going and going. They were fouled and fouled and the referee has to be strong. Blackburn are very difficult to play against because the game is stopped all the time.”
It’s not often we award this to an opposition player. But in this case, what option do we have?