Football: Profligacy of Sutton denies premier pretenders

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Derick Allsop

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Blackburn Rovers 0

Although Blackburn Rovers were restored to second place in the Premiership after this goalless draw, Wednesday will surely be the more content to salvage a point from this match of squandered opportunities.

Both teams discarded chances like unwanted Christmas gifts, Chris Sutton alone contriving to forsake the prospect of a second-half hat-trick. Defeat, however, would have been particularly cruel for Ron Atkinson's side.

Wednesday, too, ran up a catalogue of wasted openings and with more self- belief might have avenged the 7-2 indignity they suffered at Ewood Park earlier this year.

And yet this result, coming as it does in the wake of two consecutive defeats, will help ease the nerves and reinforce morale at Hillsborough. Atkinson was dismayed at his players' meek capitulation against Chelsea last weekend. Yesterday they showed real commitment as they confronted the other chief pretenders to Manchester United's title.

Blackburn may not flaunt the style and swagger of Ruud Gullit's exotic ensemble, but they are, in Atkinson's view, potentially more durable challengers. Rovers' familiar power and discipline was evident in periods of this match and they are unlikely to relent when conditions become less clement than they have been so far this winter.

Blackburn's vibrant openings suggested a goal feast might unfold. Damien Duff, earning his place at the expense of Jason Wilcox, fizzed a shot across Kevin Pressman's goal after Peter Atherton inadvertently wrong- footed his own defence.

Wednesday's repose was a brief but frenzied spell of pressure. Dejan Stefanovic's centre from the left unsettled Blackburn and Petter Rudi's languid skills almost found a way through. He was eventually defied on the line by Gary Croft. Benito Carbone, handed the responsibility of providing some Italian invention in the absence of the suspended Paolo di Canio, had an overhead effort scrambled away at the far post.

Blackburn recovered their composure and a semblance of their trademark order. Pressman, a goalkeeper in need of a good performance, was at hand to push out a shot from Stuart Ripley as the winger, flushed with scoring success, threatened to plunder a second goal in three and a half years. Peter Atherton swept away the loose ball as Kevin Gallacher arrived to scavenge.

Pressman made a more spectacular save to beat away Chris Sutton's fierce shot from 20 yards early in the second half. Had Sutton applied anything like a firm contact to Duff's cut-back after 53 minutes Pressman would have been powerless. Sutton then lifted Ripley's corner high into the stands.

Mark Pembridge brought Wednesday relief and fresh hope with a through ball to Carbone, but his tame shot was smothered by Alan Fettis. The keeper, standing in for the injured Tim Flowers, again came quickly off his line to frustrate Wednesday.

Gallacher was exasperated after heading wide, but Jon Newsome, venturing to the other end, had greater cause for contrition when he somehow failed to turn in the ball following a free kick. Blackburn bombarded Wednesday at the end, Sutton hitting a post, Gallacher blazing over and the referee intervening when they did force the ball in.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nolan, Walker, Newsome, Stefanovic (Collins, 68); Alexandersson, Atherton, Rudi, Pembridge; Carbone (Whittingham, 84), Booth. Substitutes not used: Hyde, Clarke (gk), Humphreys.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Fettis; Kenna, Henchoz, Hendry, Croft; Ripley (Flitcroft, 80), McKinlay, Sherwood, Duff (Wilcox, 84); Sutton, Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Pedersen, Bohinen, Williams (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Teesside).