FOOTBALL: Harford profits from new plan

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 5 Coventry City 1

The last week has been a significant one for Ray Harford, and not only in that it has reacquainted his Blackburn team with the experience of winning. Out of the shadow of Kenny Dalglish, Harford is beginning to reveal that he is his own man, with his own ideas.

Both at Swindon last week, in the Coca-Cola Cup, and at Ewood Park on Saturday, where they scored five goals for the first time in almost three years, the Blackburn side on view was built to new specifications.

Harford, his position apparently clear and secure after Dalglish's denial of a rumoured return, has acknowledged the limitations exposed by Spartak of Moscow in the Champions' League and begun a process of modernisation. Gone is the rigid 4-4-2 of the old model's mechanical progress. In its place, something much more fluid.

It began as 3-4-3, with Mike Newell, Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer up front, Henning Berg as one of three centre-backs and full-backs Jeff Kenna and Graeme Le Saux operating wide in midfield. Even the loss of Le Saux, to an ankle injury, in the first half, was overcome. Sutton was withdrawn into defence with Berg replacing Le Saux in what was essentially 3-5-2.

"It is not necessarily results that have prompted the change," Harford said. "It is more down to available personnel. I have been wanting to play three front players since the beginning of the season. I feel the different shape has given them more freedom to express themselves and they came off looking as though they enjoyed themselves. Attitudes are as important as systems."

Then again, one would defy anyone to frown at Alan Shearer in Saturday's form. Though there was success for Colin Hendry and Ian Pearce from raids into Coventry's box it was Shearer's hat-trick, his fifth for Blackburn, that won the game.

This was a masterclass in finishing. The first was a tap-in, the second, created by the splendid Newell, arguably not much more but the third was a Shearer classic, combining control, balance and deadly shooting in one, flowing movement. He has 102 goals for Blackburn now from 127 starts, a strike rate to compare with history's finest.

Coventry were more impressive than the score would suggest and Peter Ndlovu might have matched Shearer. Moreover, there could have been a red card for Tim Flowers, who hauled down Ndlovu on the penalty spot after 23 minutes. Fate favoured Flowers on two counts: Keith Cooper produced only a yellow card and Ndlovu's kick bounced back off a post.

Goals: Shearer (8) 1-0; Hendry (22) 2-0; Ndlovu (33) 2-1; Shearer (60) 3-1; Shearer (67) 4-1; Pearce (74) 5-1.

Blackburn Rovers (3-4-3): Flowers; Berg, Pearce, Hendry; Kenna, Batty, Sherwood, Le Saux (Makel, 35); Shearer, Sutton, Newell. Substitutes not used: Ripley, Mimms (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Filan; Pickering, Borrows, P Williams, Hall; Telfer, Richardson, Isaias, Cook (Christie, 64); Salako, Ndlovu. Substitutes not used: Darby, Gould (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).