Blackburn Rovers 1 Sunderland 0

Brad Friedel was the saviour for the second game in succession as Blackburn Rovers kicked off the new year with a narrow 1-0 victory over relegation-threatened Sunderland.

Following a forgettable first half, the big American saved Sunderland skipper Dean Whitehead's spot-kick after Chris Samba clattered into Daryl Murphy inside the box.

Samba then went from zero to hero as, just three minutes later, the giant Congo defender's acrobatic volley struck the arm of defender Danny Higginbotham on its way to goal and Benni McCarthy blasted home his first goal in over two months from 12 yards out.

Sunderland's plight then went from bad to worse when ex-Rover Dwight Yorke was sent for an early bath - something he may well have welcomed in the bitterly cold conditions - following two reckless tackles from behind.

And it was the visitors who made the better start as on ten minutes, Murphy broke down the left flank and his fierce low drive, which eluded the sliding challenge of Brett Emerton, was well kept out by Friedel.

Two minutes later, Kenwyne Jones skipped past the challenge of Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen, but he fired wide of the far post from the opposite angle.

After a handball from Yorke 25 yards out, David Bentley came within a whisker of opening the scoring for the home side with a crisply-struck curler and Rovers threatened again from another Bentley free-kick just past the half-hour mark, but Roque Santa Cruz failed to direct his glancing header on target.

Tugay was pulling the strings for the hosts, while Yorke was doing the same for Sunderland and when the former Manchester United man stepped inside the Rovers veteran to feed Jones, the Trinidad & Tobago striker's shot was comfortably saved by Friedel.

Both sides replaced their star strikers at the break, with Matt Derbyshire coming on for Santa Cruz and Sunderland's Grant Leadbitter taking over from Jones.

With Murphy now pushed up in a more advanced position for the visitors, the switch appeared to have the desired effect for Roy Keane's side, as just six minutes into the second half, a rash Samba challenge sent the Irishman tumbling to the ground following a ball into the box.

But for the second game running, Friedel guessed the right way to deny Whitehead's poorly-struck penalty.

And just three minutes later, Samba made immediate amends when his acrobatic over-head kick struck the arm of Higginbotham.

Referee Rob Styles again pointed to the spot and this time McCarthy blasted the ball past Craig Gordon.

And any hopes of a Sunderland revival soon faded when Yorke picked up two bookings in five minutes for scything tackles on first Derbyshire and then the injured striker's replacement David Dunn.

The dismissal effectively ended the game as a contest as Rovers' lead never looked in doubt with the numerical advantage and Mark Hughes' men were able to comfortably hold out for a second successive league double over the relegation-threatened Wearsiders.