Blackburn Rovers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
STILL Blackburn Rovers will not concede that the title race is finished. Given another scent of their prey by Manchester United's loss of points at Swindon - and the loss of Eric Cantona to come - Kenny Dalglish's hungry pack wore down Wednesday's resistance to claim victory in the last minute at Hillsborough yesterday, cutting United's lead to five points.
A last-minute goal might look like good fortune from a distance but in truth there were not many occasions here when the rub of the green was in Blackburn's favour. At three potentially decisive moments, their view of things was not shared by the referee, Roger Dilkes, who disallowed what the television cameras suggested was a perfectly valid goal by Alan Shearer and waved away at least two entirely reasonable penalty claims.
Frustration and annoyance must have been rising dangerously high on the Blackburn bench, but everything was put right when, with the scoreboard showing 89 minutes gone, a fierce shot on the turn by the full-back Henning Berg, from the edge of the penalty area, was only parried by Kevin Pressman. The ball reared up for Mike Newell to head past the grounded goalkeeper.
Newell had not played a senior game since 26 December because of injury and after such an absence it was surprising that he was still on the field so late in the proceedings, but no player could have moved more sharply to seize the chance.
It summed up Blackburn's performance, which fully merited the result. They simply had more energy and more industry than Wednesday in every department. David Batty, who thrives in such circumstances, was superb. The football was never blessed with much aesthetic quality but Blackburn's unflagging determination was a credit to Dalglish's management.
They led in the 17th minute when Stuart Ripley, for the first of many times, went round the left-back Simon Coleman with ease and pulled back a pass from which Jason Wilcox launched a crisp, low shot wide of Pressman's left hand. Wednesday humiliated by United at Old Trafford last week, looked ripe for another collapse.
But a second goal would not come for Blackburn, even when Shearer, appearing to be onside, collected Tim Sherwood's through ball and steered it wide of Pressman, only for the linesman's flag to go up and Dilkes to signal that the goal did not count.
Wednesday equalised untidily five minutes before half-time, Gordon Watson deflecting Coleman's header past an apparently unsighted goalkeeper.
After Wilcox, Newell, Batty and Shearer had in turn failed to make the most of second-half chances, Blackburn might have felt that fate was showing undue sympathy to the Manchester cause.
That sense would have been further accentuated had a late header from the Wednesday substitute, Nigel Jemson, gone under instead of against the crossbar. Almost immediately, however, came Newell's goal and with it justice.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nilsson, Palmer, Walker, Coleman; Bart-Wiliams, Sheridan (King, 69), Hyde, Sinton; Watson (Jemson, 54), Bright. Substitute not used: Woods (gk).
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, May, Hendry, Le Saux; Ripley, Batty, Sherwood, Wilcox; Shearer, Newell. Substitutes not used: Marker, Warhurst, Mimms (gk).
Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).
Injured knee ligaments have forced Colin Hill, the Leicester defender, to withdraw from Northern Ireland's squad for Wednesday night's friendly against Romania at Windsor Park, Belfast.Reuse content