Football: Duff's performance too much for battling Bolton

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Blackburn Rovers 3 Bolton Wanderers 1

"How come we don't get the same national media coverage as the other teams at the top of the Premiership?" protested one Blackburn Rovers supporter on the Saturday evening local radio phone-in.

Roy Hodgson, the Blackburn manager, would be perfectly happy if that was indeed the case. He has lorded over a quiet revolution at Ewood Park and Rovers appear happiest silently dodging the full glare of the title- race spotlight.

The display and 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford last week elbowed Blackburn back into the status of poor relations to the likes of Manchester United. But the first 20 minutes of this game, albeit against a benevolent Bolton side, served as a gentle reminder not to ignore their presence amongst the leading pack.

The pedigree is undeniably there. In Saturday's starting line-up only Stephane Henchoz was brought to the club by Hodgson. Seven of the side have championship medals. And then there is Damien Duff.

The 18-year-old winger from Ballyboden came of age against Bolton and was just about the only player to benefit from the sending-off of Alan Thompson after 23 minutes. The reorganised three-man Bolton midfield forced Blackburn to focus on the wings, from where Duff was able to provide a succession of crosses for Chris Sutton at the far post.

One particular second half Irish jig near the corner flag, which bemused three Bolton defenders, reinforced the analogy with Chris Waddle - drooping shoulders, a laboured gait but deceptively nifty footwork.

"It is nice to know that Damien is not just producing his skills on the training field and in the reserve team. He is a very good player and he gave a marvellous performance," observed Hodgson.

On another day, Sutton could have cashed in to greater effect, but Thompson's dismissal for a dreadfully late challenge on Jeff Kenna had shaken Bolton out of their early slumber and concerted Blackburn pressure was stoutly repelled. And at just 2-0, Bolton retained more than a passing interest in the game with the front two of Nathan Blake and Dean Holdsworth preventing total complacency in the home ranks.

Blackburn's domination, however, lapsed into occasional floppiness and seven frantic final minutes were prompted when Blake's persistence and awareness teed up Per Frandsen for a comfortable finish. Deep into injury time, Ewood Park gasped with relief when Blake was fed through into a glorious shooting position only to side-foot marginally wide.

Seconds later, Jason Wilcox, a replacement for the injured Duff, made no such mistake when he fired home the last kick of the game to produce a more reflective scoreline for the home side. A draw, while saluting the delayed Bolton heroics, would have mocked Blackburn's overall superiority.

Rovers had appeared far happier tearing apart the full Bolton complement. Both Kevin Gallacher's opener and Sutton's strike, two regulation taps- in, were as much the result of poor Bolton marking as the scintillating build up that Blackburn produced in the opening stages. Next week's trip to Arsenal will provide a more clear indication of their credentials in more trying circumstances.

Goals: Gallacher 4 (1-0); Sutton 21 (2-0); Frandsen 84 (2-1); Wilcox 90 (3-1).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Henchoz, Hendry, Croft; Ripley (Bohinen, 72), Sherwood (Flitcroft, 77), McKinlay, Duff (Wilcox, 70); Sutton, Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Pedersen, Fettis (gk)

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan (Ward, 88); Bergsson, Todd, Fish, Whitlow; Pollock, Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars; Blake, Holdsworth (Gunnlaugsson, 67).Substitutes not used: Taggart, Beardsley, Phillips.

Referee: M. Riley (Leeds)

Sending-off: Bolton: Thompson 23. Bookings: Blackburn: Sutton, Sherwood, Wilcox. Bolton: Holdsworth, Bergsson.

Man of the match: Duff.

Attendance: 25,503.

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