United too strong for Rovers

West Ham United 4-1 Blackburn Rovers

West Ham United turned on the style to beat Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon and seal the club's best start for nine years.

Calum Davenport opened the scoring with his first goal for the club on 12 minutes before Christopher Samba turned Mark Noble's effort into his own net eight minutes later. The visitors got back into the match within two minutes through a Jason Roberts strike. Then came Robert Green's crucial match-winning intervention just after half-time, as he flung himself low to his left to save Roberts' penalty. The biggest cheer of the day came when the returning Craig Bellamy struck a stunning late goal after coming off the bench before Carlton Cole tapped in the fourth.

Alan Curbishley had the luxury of naming the same starting XI for the third straight league game. This meant five changes to the team that beat Macclesfield Town by the same scoreline in the Carling Cup, with Lucas Neill, Matthew Etherington, Scott Parker, Cole and Noble all back. The manager was further boosted by Bellamy and George McCartney taking their place on the substitutes' bench. Blackburn boss Paul Ince, on his return to the Boleyn Ground, gave a debut to Australian midfielder Vince Grella.

The home crowd of 32,905 were in good voice before kick off and the boys in claret and blue responded with plenty of attacking play in the opening exchanges and it was no surprise when they took the lead. A quick break saw Dean Ashton's weighted through-ball release Etherington and he forced a corner. Julien Faubert drifted it in and Davenport rose to plant a header low past Paul Robinson in front of the Bobby Moore Stand.

The defender was making his presence felt at both ends and was responsible for halting several dangerous looking Blackburn attacks. The No27 then gave away a free-kick on the edge of the area, from which Pederson had Green scrambling across his area to see it wide.

United then doubled their lead in the 20th minute. Faubert raced down the right and the French international winger had time to pick out Noble on the edge of the area. He did not connect with his shot cleanly but Ashton was on hand to pressure Samba into turning the ball in his own net.

The celebrations did not last long though as Blackburn were back in it within two minutes. A lucky deflection left Roberts free in the area, the striker holding of his marker to finish via the far right-hand post. The forward was booked shortly after for dissent.

Rovers then suffered the blow of losing Roque Santa Cruz to injury, making way for Matt Derbyshire. The youngster thought he had scored with his first touch, but the effort was ruled out for offside. On a baking hot day at the Boleyn, the temperature was threatening to rise on the pitch too with Andre Ooijer booked for a foul on Etherington as he broke free.

The home side were getting plenty of joy down the flanks. Firstly, Faubert won a free-kick on the right after tangling with Pederson. His dangerous set-piece across goal was just too far in front of his teammates. Etherington then took his turn to show his attacking verve. He outpaced his marker before crossing dangerously to Cole, but the No12 could not quite keep his header down. The striker then fell to the floor but Mike Riley waved away the penalty claims.

The second half started with a free kick to Blackburn. Reid stepped up to take it with the ball hitting Cole's hand and referee Riley pointed to the spot. Roberts took it but Green showed his penalty prowess again with a fine save diving full length to keep it out.

Emerton then had his name taken for a foul on Faubert. The Frenchman was to make way for McCartney in the 60th minute, allowing Neill to switch to right-back and Behrami to move to the right of midfield. The Northern Ireland international picked out Davenport, who saw his chance for a second go agonisingly wide.

Green further excelled himself when he rushed out to meet Derbyshire, forcing the striker to lift his shot over the bar. Bellamy got his long-awaited first appearance since February as he entered for Ashton in the 68th minute. Green had to be ready again three minutes later to keep out Emerton's header while Robinson was alert at the other end to deny Bellamy and then Cole in quick succession. Bellamy was to get a late card but he had the last word with a stunning goal in added time. Cole added a fourth with practically the last kick of the game.