Football: Le Saux is so forward thinking

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. .2

Wilcox 17, Sherwood 65

Liverpool. . . . . 0

Attendance: 20,831

THE CHANGING landscape of English football was encapsulated by events at Ewood Park yesterday. Blackburn, again a growing threat to Manchester United, fielded a talented quartet aiming to play against Denmark in midweek while Liverpool, Rob Jones apart, were littered with England discards. The distinction was particularly sharp at left-back.

Earlier in the season, Julian Dicks was promoted as a potential England candidate; now Graeme Le Saux, a lively contributor to Rovers' Premiership victory over Liverpool, looks set to step up at Wembley.

Despite not being at his peak, Le Saux was still enterprise personified against opponents who enjoyed enough possession to have achieved a draw. Facing the quicksilver Steve McManaman, Le Saux was forced to restrain his own attacking inclinations but still managed to maraud on occasion to trouble Jones.

Whichever midfield formation Terry Venables employs on Wednesday, the onus will be on the full-backs to support forward ventures. This emphasis on flexibility and flair is why Le Saux, a solid defender with a left-wing tendency from his Jersey schooldays, is expected to make his senior debut against the European champions.

Le Saux sustained, in Kenny Dalglish's words, a 'couple of raps' in keeping Liverpool at bay but, after a visit to the medical room, he declared himself 'fine', so clearing the way for him to become the first Channel Islander to represent his country along, perhaps, with Guernsey's Matt Le Tissier.

Le Saux, as he proved again, has developed substantially since Dalglish stepped in to stop him atrophying at Chelsea. The Blackburn manager has coaxed him in the art of attacking while Ray Harford, Dalglish's number two, had coached Le Saux in defensive duties. The 25-year-old is now a well-rounded footballer.

Le Saux faces competition from that clenched-fist embodiment of Bulldog England, Stuart Pearce, but the Nottingham Forest defender's unspectular season away from the Premiership limelight may militate against him.

Where Pearce stretches sinews, Le Saux insinuates. Twice within the opening 10 minutes the Rovers' full-back left McManaman non-plussed before carrying play upfield. Le Saux powered in a fierce free- kick after 12 minutes that cleared David James's bar.

No matter. Within four minutes Rovers had the lead. The excellent Tim Flowers found Henning Berg in space on the right with a throw. The full-back's long ball was weighted perfectly for Stuart Ripley to collect and deliver a low cross to the far post, where Jason Wilcox slid in his fourth goal of the season.

Liverpool, crowded out in midfield, picked up the pace but it took another seven minutes before McManaman finally worked a move past the spirited Le Saux. This first foray foundered but a second dash before half-time saw the Liverpool winger cross impressively only for John Barnes to miss.

Ill-feeling was evident at the break when a tit-for-tat campaign brought bookings for Tim Sherwood and Ronnie Whelan, while Le Saux also tested Gerald Ashby's spelling by hauling down McManaman. Liverpool's pre-eminence either side of half-time could have brought parity through Nigel Clough, whose shot was saved by Flowers, or Jamie Redknapp, who headed against the post. But Rovers sealed matters delightfully in the 65th minute. Shearer and Wilcox combined on the edge of the penalty area to set up Sherwood, who shot past James from 15 yards.

It brought the biggest cheer of the afternoon, until the Old Trafford score was announced.