Football: Hodgson warns of the perils of point pinching

Blackburn Rovers 1 Leicester City 0
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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 1 Leicester City 0

WHILE KENNY Dalglish's leaving of St James' Park has caused few tears on Tyneside, the atmosphere it has created is not wholesome. The measurements of success and failure, the climate in which you keep or lose your job, have become harsher. Two matches are now the common currency.

Fear and caution were the powerful emotions in this match, crushing enterprise, straitjacketing the players, and affecting at least one manager. "In the past we were under pressure after 10 games," Roy Hodgson said. "Now it's after every single match."

The Blackburn manager had articulated his indignation at Dalglish's sacking/resignation beforehand and maybe his despair took to the pitch with the teams, promoting the escalating risk of losing way above the possible pleasure of a victory. Even Uriah Rennie, a referee who has polished a bright reputation in just over a year in the Premiership, seemed to lose his perspective.

It was the referee who had Hodgson cursing in an uncharacteristically tetchy appearance, so it was his principal striker, Chris Sutton, who gave a more objective overview. "What worries me after two games at Ewood Park is how tight it's going to be this season," he said. "Most teams are under so much pressure because of all the money involved and they are fighting just to stay in the Premiership.

"It's understandable, but it isn't pretty to watch and I wonder how the fans will react as time goes on. Unfortunately, I can see only Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal coming here and having at go at us."

If that means nine months of this sort of game, where point pinching is the rule, then we all ought to be worried. Leicester dozed for 25 minutes, allowed Kevin Gallacher to put Blackburn ahead, and when they did wake up they had little but the long ball as a tactical option.

Blackburn, who initially left the pounds 12m pair, Kevin Davies and Christian Dailly, on the bench, had a winless start to the campaign prominent in their thoughts and were little better. Consequently the match was one of few opportunities.

Instead the attention drifted to Mr Rennie, who gave an idiosyncratic performance with a 5-0 scoreline in terms of bookings until Leicester's Frank Sinclair and Emile Heskey were added in the latter stages.

Sutton was blown up almost every time he rose for a header and was booked for what Hodgson said was taking the option of "either diving out of the way or getting a broken leg". But while Blackburn's manager and players tempered their criticisms to avoid the wrath of the Football Association, Steve Walsh was not so circumspect.

The Leicester centre-back collapsed to the floor in the last second after a collision with Tim Sherwood and, when no penalty was forthcoming, had to be restrained by his team-mates from doing something he might regret to Mr Rennie.

"Something has to be done about him," Walsh said. "We have three players with head injuries, confrontations all over the pitch, I got taken out in the box and the referee does not know what to do. No wonder I had to be held back.

"Because of the way he handled the game he had everybody at each other's throats. His decisions were winding everyone up and causing needless problems. I'm not just talking about what happened to me, but his whole performance. He was getting so many things wrong. It's not good enough."

In a match where cynical trips went unpunished and petty indiscretions got the full treatment, he had a case no matter how you viewed the final moments. But in a world where speaking one's mind is a short cut to penury, the FA is unlikely to be as understanding.

Goal: Gallacher (12 min) 1-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Henchoz, Peacock, Davidson; Perez (Dailly, 71), Sherwood, Flitcroft, Duff (Wilcox, 71); Sutton, Gallacher (Davies, 83). Substitutes not used: McKinlay, Filan (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Sinclair, Elliott (Taggart, 68), Walsh; Savage, Zagorakis (Parker, 57), Lennon (Campbell, 54), Izzet, Guppy; Heskey, Cottee. Substitutes not used: Kaamark, Arphexad (gk).

Bookings: Blackburn: Flowers, Peacock, Flitcroft, Sutton, Perez; Leicester: Sinclair, Heskey.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Man of the match: Izzet.

Attendance: 22,554.