TWO GOALS in the first half from Republic of Ireland international Niall Quinn gave Sunderland their first top-flight victory at Ewood Park for 54 years and ended a sorry run of four consecutive away defeats.

Peter Reid's men hit top form in a scintillating first 45 minutes to bring their holiday tally to six points from two games with a thoroughly served victory.

Rovers did try to rally after the break, but their cause was lost when they were reduced to ten men as defender Craig Short was sent off for using his elbow on Sunderland substitute Kevin Kyle in the 68th minute, and Sunderland went on to snatch a third goal in the last minute through Kevin Kilbane.

It was certainly Sunderland's best away performance of the season as they rocked Blackburn with two great strikes from Quinn, who brought his total for the current campaign to five goals before being replaced in the second half.

The big Dubliner was always a handful for the home defence, which could well have been punished more severely by an eager Wearside outfit which survived a couple of early scares before taking a grip on proceedings.

Sunderland, fielding the team which beat Everton 1-0 at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, had to withstand early Rovers' pressure and were let off the hook twice in the space of a minute. Keith Gillespie sped 40 yards down the right before supplying a superb pass to Damien Duff playing as a striker. But with the Irishman only eight yards out, he couldn't control the ball, and the same poor first touch let him down again after he was played clear through the middle in the very next attack.

But Sunderland were almost gifted a goal in the 12th minute when Jason McAteer centred from the right and Craig Short sliced his clearance against the upright.

The close call seemed to inspire Sunderland and after Gavin McCann had a fierce, low drive saved by Brad Friedel, the American keeper had to parry a close-range header from Niall Quinn before holding the ball just underneath the crossbar.

The game was certainly full of incident as both teams pressed forward with great determination and another sparkling run from Gillespie ended with Thomas Sorensen leaving his line smartly to collect his cross.

But Sunderland took the lead in the 17th minute. Claudio Reyna tried a shot from the right which was flicked on by Kevin Phillips and the ball looked like going out of play before Quinn appeared at the far post to smash home a right foot volley from a narrow angle.

The goal delighted the big Sunderland following, who had been out-shouting the home supporters and a fierce drive from Julio Arca, deflected away for a corner, brought another full-throated roar.

Sunderland kept pressing forward and when Friedel made a mess of holding the ball Reyna fired in a powerful right foot shot which sailed over the bar from the edge of the box.

Phillips was bundled off the ball ten yards outside the penalty area in the 25th minute and Friedel had to push Reyna's fiercely-struck freekick round the post - a close call.

Sunderland had the upper hand but had to thank Sorensen for a great save on the half hour when Rovers looked certain to equalise. Duff escaped marker Darren Williams and bore down on goal before hitting a cracking left foot shot from 15 yards which the Dane pushed away in great style.

Sunderland, however, increased their lead in the 32nd minute, again through Quinn. Arca floated over a freekick from the right and Quinn, on the edge of the six yard box, beat everyone in the air to send his glancing header past the helpless Friedel to the great delight of the away fans behind the goal.

The Wearsiders deserved their lead after controlling the game following their two early escapes, and were storming towards the home goal at every opportunity. But play had to be held up when Phillips was pole-axed by a vicious volley from team-mate Gavin McCann, though the England man was only winded.

Blackburn tried hard to battle their way back into the game, but their final pass was letting them down against a quick-moving defence which was giving little away. But David Dunn had a half-chance in the 44th minute, only to side-foot his shot into the side netting from 12 yards.

Rovers made two changes immediately after the break, bringing on Mark Hughes for Henning Berg and Matt Jensen for Grabbi, but almost found themselves another goal down. Arca floated in the free-kick from the right in the opening minute of the second half and Phillips, to the left of goal, struck a low right foot shot which struck the foot of the post.

Rovers settled, however, and might have reduced the arrears in the 49th minute when Flitcroft found himself unmarked on the edge of the Sunderland box, only to blast his right-foot shot high over the bar.

Tempers started to fray and there was a flare-up between Hughes and Arca before Thome was shown a yellow card for a foul, which he hotly disputed.

Rovers were shaping better and when a right-wing freekick from Hughes was forced out a follow-up from Duff brought a diving, goal-line save from Sorensen. The increased tempo continued and Sunderland looked uncomfortable as substitute Jansen blasted a powerful shot just wide.

The veteran Hughes was in the thick of the action and won a corner as he flung himself in for a brave header. But Rovers were reduced to ten men in the 68th minute when central defender Craig Short was send off for using his elbow on Sunderland substitute Kevin Kyle, who had replaced Quinn only a minute earlier.

The two players had clashed a few second earlier and then came Short's rush of blood.

Kyle then got himself into trouble with the referee for a silly challenge on Dunn, which earned him a yellow card.

Phillips beat the offside flag in the 89th minute to lay on the simplest of goals for Kilbane, who had replaced Arca in the 77th minute.

l Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond has ruled Stan Collymore out of the running for the vacant manager's job at Valley Parade.

The former England striker spent three months with the club last season and had expressed an interest in taking over from Jim Jefferies, who left the club on Christmas Eve.

However, Richmond said: ''I would like to thank Stan Collymore for his interest but unfortunately we cannot consider it as a serious application.

''I don't want to comment on individuals but we start with a clean sheet and look at all available candidates.

''We are reluctant to go about this in haste, but we will not be making an approach for any manager currently under contract with another club. We don't do things that way.''

Richmond denied stories that Jefferies had been sacked, insisting the manager had resigned.

He said: ''Jim Jefferies resigned and it was accepted, but it was done verbally and now lawyers are involved. The claim is that it wasn't a resignation but an intention to resign.

''As far as we are concerned he resigned, but I must say that talks with Jim Jefferies were amicable.''