Blackburn Rovers 1
Shearer pen 5
Queen's Park Rangers 0
IF THERE is an unsatisfactory way to begin the defence of your title with a win, then Blackburn found it yesterday. Beneficiaries of a dubious penalty after only five minutes, they followed it with a dour performance that lurched into the realms of the disastrous when their goalkeeper, Tim Flowers, was sent off for a professional foul 18 minutes from time.
That would have taken the gloss off any victory, but the paintwork lacked shine even before Flowers charged out to fell Trevor Sinclair, as Queen's Park Rangers were turning copious possession into real threat and the home crowd were beginning to express their frustration.
Blackburn were never the most imaginative side last season, relying on teamwork, drive, and understanding up front. They could still be thrilling to watch - but weren't here, where their harsher qualities prevailed. These were augmented by David Batty, clearly intent on making up for his almost total absence through injury from the Premiership-winning side.
QPR could count themselves unlucky. Daniele Dichio, the giant brought in to succeed Les Ferdinand, was a mobile target man and there were the makings of a useful relationship with Kevin Gallen. But QPR's good work was happening too far from the Blackburn goal.
It might have turned out differently if Sinclair hadn't dithered when getting behind the Blackburn defence in only the fourth minute. With a chance to shoot, albeit from a tight angle, he crossed to nobody on the far post.
A minute later, Blackburn were ahead. When David Bardsley rose to challenge Alan Shearer there didn't seem anything illegal about it. But to general surprise the referee pointed to the spot and Shearer took a chance to get his scoring mechanism working again.
In the QPR protests that inevitably followed, their left back Rufus Brevett was booked, and the tone was set for a niggling match in which yellow cards were shown to four more players. Chances were rare, the best falling to Graeme Le Saux after 24 minutes. A one-two with the selfless Chris Sutton gave him a clear run at Tony Roberts in the QPR goal, but, opting for precision rather than power, he sidefooted wide.
QPR were working hard, while Blackburn were set increasingly on containment. But in the 72nd minute this policy backfired when Sinclair ran on to a lofted ball that was landing some 25 yards out and found Flowers bearing down on him. As Sinclair tried to nip past, Flowers knocked him over, apparently injuring himself in the process. The referee waited for the worst of his writhing to end before producing the red card.
Ray Wilkins, the QPR manager, said he would have preferred Flowers to stay and his side to have been awarded a penalty. He has a point. Ray Harford, in his first post-match press conference since taking over as Blackburn manager, had rather less to say.Reuse content