Former Zimbabwe international striker Benjani Mwaruwari turned on a man-of-the-match performance as his rare double fired Blackburn to a 3-1 win over Liverpool in the English Premier League on Wednesday night that heaped more pressure on under-fire Reds manager Roy Hodgson.
Benjani retired from international football after Zimbabwe drew 0-0 with Cape Verde Islands in a 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifier, but on Wednesday night showed he still has that instinct which has seen him perform well against all the big teams-Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea, in the past.
“Benji has been a little short on fitness and coming on more as an impact sub; but I think it’s started to come together for him over the last two to three weeks,” said coach Steve Kean after the match.
This was his second and third goal of the season for the former Warriors skipper after enduring an indifferent start under then manager Sam Allardyce.
Sweden international Martin Olsson had deservedly put Rovers into a 32nd-minute lead at Ewood Park and the home side were 2-0 up before half-time courtesy of Benjani and The Sun deservedly game him an eight out of 10 mark for his top-drawer performance.
Benjani, whose deal with Rovers ends in June but has a one-year option extension, notched his second from close range early in the second half with the Reds scoring a late consolation via Steven Gerrard, who then proceeded to miss a penalty.
Reds midfielder Joe Cole, scorer of a late winner against Bolton on Saturday, was handed his first Premier League start since October 31 in one of four changes which also included the return of skipper Gerrard.
Rovers, whose ambitious attempt to sign AC Milan’s Brazilian star Ronaldinho looks set to end in disappointment, made three changes of their own with defender Christopher Samba among those drafted into Kean’s side.
Blackburn quickly found their stride, however and threatened from a Morten Gamst Pedersen free-kick and David Dunn’s volley. Another chance went to waste when Mame Biram Diouf failed to make a clean connection with Olsson’s cross with just Pepe Reina to beat while, down the other end, Cole saw a cross-cum-shot from the right side of the area slide agonisingly beyond the far post.
That was as good as it got in the first half for Hodgson’s team and it was no surprise when Rovers went ahead when Biram Diouf bypassed Glen Johnson with a threaded ball to send Olsson through to shoot past Reina.
Within six minutes the advantage was doubled with Pedersen the provider after he chipped a ball into Benjani who, with his back to goal, rolled Sotirios Kyrgiakos before unleashing an explosive volley into the back of the net.
Hodgson had to face chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” from the home fans and the Liverpool manager’s day to forget got worse still in the second half when the home side made it three in the 57th minute.
The superb Olsson was at the heart of the move once again, cleverly finding Junior Hoillett down the left channel and the youngster skipped past Johnson at the byline before crossing to leave Benjani with the simplest of tap-ins.
Gerrard fired in a consolation for the visitors with nine minutes to go when Torres’ blocked shot fell kindly for him inside the box and he drilled a low shot past Rovers keeper Mark Bunn.
But Hodgson would have known it wouldn’t be his night when England international Gerrard blazed a late penalty over the bar after he was caught by Michel Salgado.