A game of power without glory

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The Independent Online
Sounds close, doesn't it? Blackburn winning 1-0 at Crystal Palace. Almost an upset. Even tense. It wasn't either of those things. "They didn't make a mistake," the Palace manager, Alan Smith, said. "Gave us nothing."

So that's what Jack Walker has got for his millions. Not flair, not virtuosity to thrill the heart. But efficiency. The grinding certainty that comes from good organisation. In a word, pragmatism. On a bleak day in south-east London the football was grim. However, Smith spoke in his capacity as a teacher and admirer. It was the effort Blackburn put in that most impressed him. They are an object lesson, is more or less what he could be heard saying.

A fundamental truth about the Premiership, indeed English football as a whole, is that there are no easy encounters. Palace had not scored for eight games and, by the look of things, a goal will be a long time coming, but that miserable statistic did notpersuade Blackburn to relax their driving earnestness.

If the championship is coming their way, it will not be achieved with a flourish. Doubtless, Kenny Dalglish would scathingly have put things in barely decipherable perspective. Standing in for him, Ray Harford was content to articulate the inner satisfaction. "We've scored more goals than anybody," he said. "If scoring goals is entertaining, we're the most entertaining team in the League."

In truth, Blackburn are no exception to prevailing attitudes. Did Brazil not win the World Cup by choosing to be more practical than idealists allowed for? One thing about football upon which some us are in agreement is that it used to be more entertaining. The exact period when this was so, however, varies in direct ratio with the age of the fellow telling about it. In howling after antiquity, the sportswriter thinks about a time before he began to get bored with what he is doing.

However, the prevailing view among scribes at Selhurst Park was ageless. All were in agreement that it was a consider- ably less than exhilarating experience.

Comments I sometimes hear in the course of my researches suggest that many spectators today are not always clear about what they are watching. They put a knowledge of tactical guile before an understanding of the difference between good and bad players.

By today's standards, and in accordance with the resources their benefactor has generously made available, Blackburn have good players in abundance. As Harford was quick to point out, a number of places in the team are always up for contention. "It keepsthem on their toes," he said.

Having taken 28 points out of the last 30, Blackburn are well on course for their first championship since Lord Kitchener was calling for volunteers. As they are fond of saying in boxing: "You got to go with a winner." Probably, Blackburn's philosophy was dictated by the knowledge that Palace would be unlikely to score even if the opposition played without a goalkeeper. On current form one goal is sufficient to beat them.

If Tim Sherwoods' rare strike in the 66th minute was untidy, Smith would have settled for it. Any old goal would do for him. "You would not call them [Blackburn] the most attractive team but they are certainly the most consistent," he said. He spoke wistfully.

Goal: Sherwood 0-1 (66).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Humphrey, Shaw, Coleman, Patterson (Ndah, 67); Williams, Southgate, Newman, Gordon; Armstrong, Preece. Substitutes not used: Pitcher, Wilmot (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Hendry, Pearce, Le Saux; Ripley, Sherwood, Atkins, Wilcox; Shearer, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Newell, Warhurst, Mimms (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Middlesex).

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