Football: Blackburn turning procession into race

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Liverpool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

IT WAS a classic Liverpool tactic from their prosperous past: winning without playing particularly impressively. Unfortunately for the Anfield men, it was Blackburn who had adopted the trick. No wonder Kenny Dalglish was smiling.

There is something of the old Anfield ethic at work in Ewood's growing reputation. An ability and eagerness to vary approach play, a dressing-room full of thinkers and workers who fight hard for possession, all crowned with a regal touch of class in attack. When Roy Evans, Sammy Lee and Ronnie Moran filed into Dalglish's office for a chat and a drink afterwards, the Boot Room appeared back in business.

Rovers' former Liverpool manager had further reason to be cheerful. Victory, secured by two splendid breakaway goals which stood as cheeky book-ends to sustained pressure from occasionally upbeat visitors, had narrowed Manchester United's lead to four points.

Dalgish, predictably (and sensibly), spun the take-each-game-as-it- comes line afterwards, refusing to speculate on whether the Premiership title challenge had turned from a procession to a race.

Murmurs elsewhere that one day's results do not settle a season's work, that the championship is a marathon not a sprint, are understandable - but a well-timed dash to the line has often won marathons. Rovers, with United suddenly back in view, will be frustrated they have no match for a fortnight, although the break should see Mike Newell and Paul Warhurst restored to full fitness.

Against Liverpool, their colleagues immediately took the initiative and then the lead. Tim Flowers, who along with fellow England squad member David Batty continually impressed, set the ball rolling. Noting that Julian Dicks was out of position, Flowers launched a right- sided attack through Henning Berg. The Norwegian's astute long pass into the area Dicks should have been patrolling allowed Stuart Ripley to gallop forward and stroke a low cross to the far post. Jason Wilcox converted with ease.

The athleticism of Wilcox and Ripley contrasted with John Barnes's sluggishness. Steve McManaman kept Graeme Le Saux on his toes but, on Liverpool's left flank, the former England international resembled a champion thoroughbred slipping past its prime. McManaman even set him up for an equaliser but Barnes sliced wide, to Ewood's delight.

Encouragingly for Liverpool's future, the visitors' best moments came from the youthful Rob Jones, Jamie Redknapp and McManaman. But poor finishing was eventually compounded by poor marking, affording Rovers' second, from another fast-moving raid: Nicky Marker clipped the ball over a backpedalling midfield for Alan Shearer and Wilcox to fashion an opening for Tim Sherwood, who finished emphatically from 15 yards.

So, the race is back on. The champions, undeniably a superior force to Blackburn, may still be grateful of their match in hand when they visit Ewood on 2 April.

Goals: Wilcox (17) 1-0; Sherwood (65) 2-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Flowers; Berg, May, Moran (Hendry, h/t), Le Saux; Ripley, Batty, Marker, Sherwood, Wilcox; Shearer. Substitutes not used: Atkins, Mimms (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; R Jones, Wright, Ruddock, Dicks; McManaman, Whelan, Redknapp, Barnes; Clough (Walters, 79), Rush. Substitutes not used: Harkness, Gayle (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).