Shearer pen 7, Wilcox 30, Ripley 39
Wimbledon. . . . . . 0
AT THE risk of incurring the wrath of Alex Ferguson it should be said that Blackburn Rovers have developed into a splendid side. On their jaunty, intermittently classic showing at Ewood Park yesterday they would be worthy champions were not Manchester United already duly installed in that role.
Three first-half goals, one of quite imperishable quality, ensured them a clear, beautifully constructed victory. Of course, the quality of the opposition must be considered, and Wimbledon were oddly bereft of their familiar fight-till-we-or-the-opposition drop ingredient. Perhaps this was because they simply could not gain possession.
The second goal epitomised their difficulty. As Blackburn built up inexorably through midfield, pass followed precise pass well into double figures. The number grew large enough for someone to suggest that a spare ball should be thrown on for Wimbledon to play with.
In the event they soon had one for restart purposes. The ball eventually arrived on the left of the penalty area where Graeme Le Saux passed inside to Jason Wilcox. Wilcox's right-foot volley was a perfect finale to a perfect move.
By then Wimbledon had already fallen a goal behind. In the seventh minute, Le Saux, making his way towards goal, was brought down. Alan Shearer belted home the penalty. He might have had the chance to add a second from what looked like a clearer penalty eight minutes later. Kevin Gallacher, a mere two yards from the goal line, suddenly went sprawling with the defender Gary Elkins in attendance. Perhaps the referee, Mr Wilkie, saw some contact with the ball which was not immediately apparent to most of the other 16,215 watching.
Having eventually doubled their lead Blackburn's movements forward were coruscating. They attacked constantly and always looked like scoring. David Batty and Stuart Ripley combining down the right, and Le Saux and Wilcox on the left were all but irresistible.
It was Ripley who stabbed home the third goal in the 39th minute after Gallacher had at first been denied following Wilcox's cross. The game was as good as over. Rovers were never as vibrant afterwards, which at least allowed Wimbledon to become more involved. There was the odd unthreatening shot at goal and the occasional flurry around the edges of the box.
It was, however, never a good advertisement for the worthy qualities of being poor and making do, it was rather a glittering justification of the idea that money, and lots of it, can bring happiness - at least in football.