Football: Blackburn turn back the clock

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 3 Liverpool 0

They turned the clock back for the second Sunday running in East Lancashire yesterday, and on this occasion it had nothing to do with timepieces. Blackburn, without a League victory or a manager, re-created the rapture with which Ewood Park acclaimed the championship 18 months ago by virtue of a masterful demolition of Liverpool.

In their previous home game, 12 days earlier, Blackburn had capitulated in the Coca-Cola Cup to Stockport County. The defeat proved the "final straw" for Ray Harford, who duly made way for Tony Parkes to assume the reins on a caretaker basis. The names of Terry Venables, Howard Kendall, Bruce Rioch and Jack Charlton have all been entered in the succession stakes, although the pressure on Jack Walker to make an appointment will be a little less intense this morning.

Blackburn's owner will still see his club propping up the Premiership, with six points separating them from the side lying just above the relegation zone. But if ever the dubious distinction of looking "too good to go down" was correctly applied to anyone, it was surely to Liverpool's tormentors on a dark Pennine afternoon.

The scale of their success - against a team aspiring to lead the table - did not flatter Blackburn, whose only previous victims in any competition had been Brentford. Parkes' tactical strategy was simple enough, yet it confounded Liverpool for half an hour, by which point they were already trailing to a Chris Sutton penalty and Jason Wilcox's first goal of the season.

Parkes' game plan involved deploying Wilcox and Kevin Gallacher as supplementary attackers in the flank positions. That had the effect of dragging the wide defenders in Liverpool's back three out of the shape which has served them so well under Roy Evans. The Blackburn midfield, whose intention to hustle the visitors out of their stride was plain from the first whistle, also found the energy to pour into the gaps.

Liverpool, of course, know all about overturning two-goal deficits, having shrugged off identical arrears to beat the Swiss side, Sion, 6-3 in a frenzied Cup-Winners' Cup match at Anfield on Thursday. This time Evans sought to reverse the blue and white tide by sending on Jamie Redknapp and switching to a back four as early as the 34th minute.

For a while, Blackburn lived on their nerves, until Sutton's second goal assuaged any doubts 10 minutes into the second half. The pounds 5m striker, always the junior half of the so-called SAS partnership with Alan Shearer, was back to his form of two seasons ago, holding off challenges and executing turns in a manner that betrayed the tutelage of Kenny Dalglish.

While no one better embodied Blackburn's rebirth than Sutton, there were also hugely influential performances from Colin Hendry, making an early comeback after a groin operation, and Graeme Le Saux, playing his first home match since a career-threatening injury 11 months ago.

Liverpool, whose only previous defeat had been incurred against the run of play at Manchester United, were never allowed to settle into their passing rhythm. They were chasing the game almost before they had broken sweat, from the moment Sutton took Tim Sherwood's pass and wriggled away from Phil Babb.

The hapless Babb, from whose wing all three goals were to eminate, clipped the former Norwich player's heels and the referee pointed to the spot. As the more fatalistic among Blackburn's fans wondered whether 130 seconds was too early to go scoring against a team of Liverpool's capabilities, Sutton scored emphatically from the spot.

Having found the net only twice at home in the League, Blackburn were understandably anxious to press home their advantage while Liverpool were in disarray. When Garry Flitcroft wasted a free header it seemed likely to be a costly miss. However, the provider of the cross, Gallacher, soon set up the second goal.

John Barnes, unable to find any time on the ball until the introduction of Redknapp, played Babb into trouble on the left of the Liverpool box. Flitcroft was quick to sense hesitancy, dispossessing the defender with a sliding tackle before moving the ball wide to Gallacher. David James and Mark Wright left the ensuing cross to each other, enabling Wilcox to steal in and sidefoot home.

Redknapp briefly transformed Liverpool, who might even have gone in level at half-time. Robbie Fowler's angled volley whistled over; Patrik Berger was inches wide from 20 yards; and Tim Flowers had to touch behind a raking drive by Barnes. Blackburn held out, and seconds after surviving a further scare when Flowers dived late at the feet of Jason McAteer, they sealed their first win in six months with a marvellous goal.

Gallacher was once more the supplier, taking a pass from the inspirational Sherwood before curling a centre towards the near post. Sutton, timing his run ahead of Wright to perfection, saw a classic glancing header enter the net by the far upright. Liverpool huffed and puffed, but Blackburn had the leg and lung power Sion lacked and if anything, were close to turning a romp into a rout through late shots by Sherwood and Lars Bohinen.

By the time the Premiership resumes after the international weekend, Blackburn should have a successor to Harford installed. The break also gives their supporters a further 12 days to savour this triumph although, after the last such hiatus, which followed an impressive 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, they lost at home to Leeds.

As for Liverpool a second defeat in 16 matches need not be a cause for panic. Yet the ease with which they were pressured into defensive panics was ominous, and it is also questionable whether the likes of Redknapp, Stan Collymore, Neil Ruddock and John Scales will settle for a place on the bench indefinitely.

Goals: Sutton pen (3) 1-0; Wilcox (24) 2-0; Sutton (55) 3-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Flowers; Kenna, Berg, Hendry, Le Saux; Gallacher (Bohinen, 79), Sherwood, McKinlay, Flitcroft, Wilcox; Sutton. Substitutes not used: Ripley, Marker, Fenton, Given (gk).

Liverpool (3-4-2-1): James; Wright, Matteo, Babb; McAteer, Thomas, Barnes, Bjornebye (Redknapp, 34); McManaman, Berger (Collymore, 59); Fowler. Substitutes not used: Scales, Ruddock, Warner (gk).

Bookings: Blackburn: McKinlay, Berg. Liverpool: Babb, Fowler.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Man of the match: Sherwood. Attendance: 29,598.

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