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Blackburn 5-2 Cambridge: Szmodics hits hat-trick as Rovers breeze past visitors
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PA Sport staff
Press Association
Sammie Szmodics hit a hat-trick
Sammie Szmodics hit a hat-trick

Sammie Szmodics scored a first-half hat-trick as Blackburn avoided an upset by overcoming League One outfit Cambridge 5-2 in the FA Cup third round.

In the first meeting between the sides in exactly 31 years, Blackburn found themselves behind when Jack Lankester’s early curling finish put Neil Harris’ team in front.

Szmodics swept in an equaliser in the 23rd minute but parity was brief as Sullay Kaikai volleyed in his second of the season to put Cambridge ahead again.

Blackburn’s superior firepower was the difference, though, typified by Szmodics, the Championship’s leading marksman, who lashed in a second equaliser in the 37th minute before completing his hat-trick in stoppage time, volleying in his 19th of the campaign.

Arnor Sigurdsson’s seventh of the season midway through the second half, and Harry Leonard’s late header, ensured welcome respite from Rovers’ league form.

Cambridge’s aggressive start was rewarded in the sixth minute when Jubril Okedina picked out Lankester in the area and he cut inside onto his left foot before curling brilliantly into the top corner.

Szmodics went close 10 minutes later when Jack Stevens superbly tipped his shot away but Blackburn’s continued pressure eventually told when Szmodics confidently swept Hayden Carter’s near-post cross into the bottom corner.

United came roaring back and restored their lead in the 26th minute when James Brophy’s cross was cushioned by Lankester into the path of Kaikai who emphatically rifled home a volley from 12 yards.

Blackburn restored parity again in the 37th minute when Sigurdsson pounced on a loose pass before threading to Szmodics, who hammered a left-footed shot beyond Stevens from close range.

Szmodics still had time to complete his hat-trick before the break with the best finish of the lot, finding the bottom corner with a first-time volley to convert Callum Brittain’s pinpoint cross.

Andrew Moran’s left-footed shot cannoned off the crossbar just after the break, before Kaikai’s mazy run at the other end found Adam May who shot straight at Leopold Wahlstedt.

Stevens in the Cambridge goal produced another impressive sprawling save, this time to thwart Sigurdsson’s low, curling effort.

But the Iceland international could not be denied when Cambridge failed to clear their lines and Carter showed remarkable poise to find Sigurdsson six yards out.

Leonard somehow volleyed wide from close range but made up for it in the 81st minute, rising highest to head home Harry Pickering’s left-wing centre.

Sigurdsson forced a remarkable reflex save from Stevens late on, while Szmodics rattled the post, but that would have been harsh on Cambridge who battled valiantly.

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