Football: Grobbelaar taxes the idol rich

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The Independent Online
Southampton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

IF FOOTBALL'S finances have indeed gone crazy then trust the old eccentric, Bruce Grobbelaar, to point up anomalies. In an era of pounds 15,000-a- week players, pounds 5m transfers and pounds 300,000 loyalty demands without so much as a single game in exchange, it was intriguing to watch Southampton's new goalkeeper, a free signing, keeping Messrs Shearer and Sutton at bay.

That he was beaten at all was due, he insisted, to sleight of hand from Alan Shearer who enjoyed his equaliser all the more for the penalty stop with which Grobbelaar had prevented him opening his season's account 30 minutes earlier.

With the 'greedy' jibes aimed Shearer's way from those who once showed him only devotion and the tiresome attack on Chris Sutton's valuation, the Southampton supporter offered as much originality as did his team in the days before Alan Ball arrived to wield the stick and dangle the carrot to Matthew Le Tissier. Thankfully for his manager, the Main Man began the new term as spectacularly as he finished the last.

An audaciously struck 60- yard pass fell so perfectly for Nicky Banger that Tony Gale had no time to get across and close him down. Banger's finish was of such quality that Ball may today be pondering the wisdom of retaining him on only week-to-week terms.

Most playmakers struggle to strike a devastating pass of that dimension once a season. For Le Tissier it is common currency but he could not repeat the feat and as he disappeared after the break, so the home side lost their hold.

Nevertheless Blackburn were the more positive throughout: frequently opening up both flanks though the final ball in was often poor. Yet there were enough passes getting through for Sutton to threaten a pounds 5m debut goal. He came close after only a minute, sidefooting wide, and again later from a similar attempt, the former Liverpool keeper making a smart claim. In between, a difficult header drifted past the post.

A fitter Sutton would probably have accepted one or more of those. His partnership with Shearer (this was the first time they had played together) and his ability to bring colleagues to the fore augured well. Kenny Dalglish will consider the headed assist for Shearer to be an adequate first-day return for a huge outlay.

The Blackburn manager was just as pleased with Gale, another free transfer, and the energetic Robbie Slater. All round there was enough evidence to suggest Rovers will be thereabouts among the title contenders, if not there. On this showing Southampton will not have a repeat of last season's trepidations. Even if the referee did not enjoy it - with a shrug of resignation Keith Cooper took seven names on an afternoon without malice - the rest of us did.

Goals: Banger (16) 1-0. Shearer (61) 1-1.

Southampton: (3-5-1-1): Grobbelaar; Hall, Widdrington, Benali; Kenna, Allen (Heaney, 77), Magilton, Maddison, Charlton; Le Tissier; Banger. Substitutes not used: Beasant (gk), Whiston.

Blackburn: (4-4-2); Flowers; Berg, Gale, Hendry, Le Saux; Ripley, Slater, Sherwood, Wilcox; Sutton, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Mimms (gk), Atkins, Pearce.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

The Southampton striker, Iain Dowie, remains hopeful that he can agree a move to Norwich. The fee could be decided by a tribunal.