Charlton Athletic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
BLACKBURN ROVERS, the only credible contenders to Manchester United at the top of the Premiership, were left with no alternative attraction last night when they were dismissed from the FA Cup.
They joined an expanding list of elite clubs laid low by members of the Endsleigh League when they were beaten by Charlton at Ewood Park. Darren Pitcher's first-half goal ensured the First Division side will travel to either Stockport County or Bristol City in the fifth round in what is becoming a Cup enclave for giantkillers.
This replay was an emphatic endorsement for the underdog. Charlton's team, albeit good enough to be second in their division, were brought together for pounds 300,000, less than a 10th of the price of Blackburn's most expensive signing, Alan Shearer. Yet they had the better of the first meeting between these sides at The Valley and deserved what fortune they had last night if only for their unflappability.
Blackburn poured their expensive resources forward in an incessant search for an equaliser but there was never a hint of panic in the Londoners' ranks and, indeed, they might have got a second goal in the last seconds when Garry Nelson was a fraction wide with a shot from the left.
Surprisingly, it was Shearer who missed the two best opportunities Blackburn had. The first came in the closing minutes of the first half when Stuart Ripley located him in the six-yard box. Normally his reactions are like lightning and his shot clinical but on this occasion Shearer was uncharacteristically hesitant and a combination of the Charlton goalkeeper, Mike Salmon, and Scott Minto blocked his effort.
Worse was to folow in the 70th minute. Ripley was again the provider, this time from the right, and his cross was deceptive enough to elude Salmon's leap. Shearer was waiting behind him, but he, too, seemed confused by the arc of the ball and with the goal gaping he headed wide.
So instead of lingering in its usual position, the limelight was dragged from Shearer and on to Pitcher, a 24-year-old midfield player Charlton have cultivated since he signed on as a schoolboy.
The goal came after 14 minutes and, almost inevitably, Carl Leaburn played a part. At 6ft 3in he has natural advantages when it comes to heading the ball but he also leaps prodigiously and had caused Blackburn considerable problems in their first meeting.
This time he won the ball with surprising ease when Steve Brown aimed a free-kick in his direction and then laid it off with a precise angle and weight into Pitcher's path. From 20 yards he beat Tim Flowers via a deflection.
Blackburn could hardly say they had not been warned. Charlton had two penalty claims turned down at The Valley and they attacked with enterprise in the opening minutes of this replay. Twice Nelson had Flowers flying across his goalmouth in the first quarter.
But once they were behind Blackburn pressed forward with increasing urgency. Any one of Kevin Gallacher, Jason Wilcox and Andy Morrison could have scored but were thwarted either by Salmon or by a Charlton back-four who grew rather than diminished in stature as the temperature got hotter.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Morrison, Moran, Le Saux; Ripley, Marker (Atkins, 78), Batty, Wilcox; Gallacher (Pearce, 70), Shearer. Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Salmon; Brown, McLeary, Balmer, Minto; Robson (Newton, 77), Pitcher, Pardew, Nelson; Grant, Leaburn. Substitutes not used: Garland, Bolder (gk).
Referee: A Flood (Stockport).
FA's threat, page 35
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