Football: Duff demonstrates a depth of strength

Blackburn Rovers 3 Ripley 22, Duff 51, 72 West Ham United 0 Attendance: 21,653
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The Independent Online
If Chris Sutton's absence had placed an intolerable strain on Blackburn's limited striking resources, the tension did not show. Instead, a teenage Irishman and a winger without a goal for 44 months shouldered the scoring responsibilities to provide a true indication of Blackburn's genuine squad strength.

It is ironic that the manager of the club most readily labelled "money bags" admits that he is probably in charge of one of the smaller squads in the Premiership. West Ham were therefore seen as a test of the resilience of Roy Hodgson's side. The conclusions drawn were as emphatic as the manner of victory.

Although Blackburn took time to adapt to Sutton's suspension, Damien Duff slotted in comfortably behind Kevin Gallacher in attack. Their trickery around the penalty area and smooth midfield distribution were too much for the visitors, whose lack of ambition was compounded by their dysfunctional tactics away from home.

The West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, admitted surgery was necessary and said: "I am going to have to change the system away from home. We haven't got any shape to us when we play with two up front and one behind. We didn't play very well in the first half and we gave away three scandalous goals."

By contrast, Roy Hodgson revelled in the practical tinkering prompted by Sutton's ban. "We knew the big West Ham defenders would dominate us in the air," he said. "It was pleasing to see we could cause them problems with our movement and passing."

The Hammers were benevolent enough to hand Stuart Ripley his first goal since April 1994. Duff had wriggled through the massed West Ham ranks into the penalty box and around Rio Ferdinand. A clumsy body check was puzzlingly ruled to be mere obstruction by the referee Gerald Ashby. Ripley's meaty header into the bottom corner from Sherwood's curled cross was nothing less than poetic justice.

Gallacher was allowed similar freedom in the final minute of the first half when Duff dragged the ball along the six-yard box from the by-line. Gallacher over-deliberated and Craig Forrest was relieved to collect the bobble off the striker's knee.

If the first goal was generous, the second was a true gift. Forrest's mishit clearance was inexplicably headed back towards the goalkeeper by Andrew Impey and Duff, ambling back onside, gratefully accepted.

The threat of a West Ham comeback, not that any signs had been shown, was extinguished when Steve Lomas was dismissed for manhandling Mr Ashby, who had taken no action when Paul Kitson crumpled under a Colin Hendry challenge in the Blackburn area.

That sparked a logjam of one-way Blackburn traffic. Gallacher headed over from a defence- splitting long ball and Billy McKinlay warmed Forrest's fingers from 30 yards before the final goal, another poorly defended affair. Ripley created space which gave Duff enough time to drill into the roof of the goal. The procession on goal was maintained, but Jason Wilcox failed to cap an incisive build-up with a decisive finishing.