Football: Filan's dazzling display solves mystery

Newcastle United 0 Blackburn Rovers 0
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SOMEONE SHOULD have told John Filan that Blackburn's interest in prolonging their involvement in this season's FA Cup borders on indifference, preoccupied as they are with Premiership survival. Newcastle certainly wish they had. But for Filan yesterday, they would have claimed a home quarter-final against Everton.

There are those who have wondered how the Australian has succeeded in denying such an accomplished goalkeeper as Tim Flowers a way back into the Premiership after injury. If there was ever a mystery, there is mystery no more.

Filan enjoyed one of those days young goalkeepers may dream about but rarely experience. As a consequence Newcastle have now to come through an Ewood Park replay in order to save their season from premature collapse.

Outwardly, Ruud Gullit, their manager, seems confident that his team will see Rovers off second time round. "There is going to be much more space available to us at Ewood and probably a better pitch to play on than the one we had today," he declared.

"It was their goalkeeper who kept Blackburn in the Cup, and while my players are very disappointed with the result, I am very happy with the way they performed. The progress we have made is there for everyone to see. There is a lot more in this team than everyone thought."

Gullit's side were not the first to chance their arm. Ashley Ward's clever early lob against the bar falsely suggested that Rovers were up for it in an attacking sense but having survived a scare which took Shay Given totally by surprise Newcastle quickly asserted themselves to become the game's prime movers.

The only surprise was that having dominated most of the match they failed to establish the significant lead they deserved by half-time. The exploration was threefold: excellent goalkeeping from Filan, a degree of misfortune and the occasional piece of rank bad finishing, the most notable of which saw Temuri Ketsbaia head over the top in the sixth minute.

Newcastle matched Ward's early strike against the bar in kind; Stephen Glass volleying against the same area of woodwork.

That effort set Newcastle up for a sustained period of attacking in which Gary Speed, taken off on a stretcher off late in the game, featured strongly.

For most of the game, Rovers seemed to have little or nothing with which to counter, the supply to Ward and Chris Sutton being of a stop-start nature.

Whether it was the level of energy expended or simply frustration Newcastle failed to pick up the pace of the game in the second half. As a result, the demands on Filan diminished, though hardly disappeared.

It was only in the final quarter of the game that Rovers suggested they could sneak a result they would hardly have merited, despite their impressive defensive work of which the former Newcastle central defender Darren Peacock was a key part.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Barton, Charvet, Howey, Domi; Hamann, Speed (Brady, 78), Solano, Glass; Ketsbaia, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Harper, Saha, Hughes, Griffin.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Kenna, Peacock, Broomes, Croft; Gillespie, Dunn (Konde, 59), Marcolin, Duff (Blake, 51), Ward, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Flowers, Davies, Taylor.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

Bookings: Newcastle: Hamann. Blackburn: Sutton.

Man of the match: Filan.

Attendance: 36,295.