Football: Palace reply to Shearer threat

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. . .3

Blackburn Rovers. .3

WHATEVER the implications for the rest, Blackburn Rovers' attempt to buy their way into long- awaited success has at least given the Premier League something to talk about. Their capital investment in Alan Shearer, alone, began to pay off yesterday when he scored two fine goals against Crystal Palace, who nevertheless recovered in injury time to equalise in an otherwise uninspiring introduction to what the advertising men are calling 'an all new ball game'.

It was confirmation of the new League's inability to spread its wares across the first of many long weekends of heavy television demands that the most interesting game of this first Saturday should be one between a team fresh out of the Second Division and another unlikely to ignite excitement outside of south London. If both sides finish in the top half they will have done well; the more so Palace who, ironically, were yesterday negotiating the transfer of the midfield player Geoff Thomas to Blackburn.

Money is as tight at Palace as it is in free-flow at Ewood Park, and the sale of Andy Gray to Tottenham Hotspur for pounds 750,000 had been that of necessity. Blackburn, on the other hand, were luxuriating in the pleasure of discovering whether Kenny Dalglish could ignore everyone's warning that money could not buy a blend. By all accounts Shearer, bought for pounds 3.6m from Southampton, had been well compensated for the pressure of being a star in Murdoch's Sky even before he had a chance to prove that his astronomic fee was worthwhile.

Whatever the hype, there is going to be as much down-to-earth football this season as there ever was in the old First Division; the difference being that it will cost everyone more money. The sight of Shearer failing to control an inviting centre from Tony Dobson eight yards out was not encouraging, but Blackburn, overall, were understandably nervous and it took time for them to establish any semblance of understanding.

In spite of John Salako's return after many months of injury problems, Palace were conspicuously light in attack and until they can obtain some strong support for Mark Bright they will remain so. Even before Alan Wright had to be carried off after a collision with Eric Young, Blackburn were insecure in defence and thankful for Palace's weakness.

For ages it seemed that Salako had failed to see that he would be better off carrying the ball into the penalty area rather than floating across to the waiting Blackburn heads yet it was a high centre from Richard Shaw that defied logic in the 37th minute. He dropped a cross on the head of Bright. There was little power on the header but it was helped into the net by Bobby Mimms. Rovers recovered well, however, and after 42 minutes Mike Newell centred for Stuart Ripley to place a strong, deliberate header into the far corner to equalise.

Dalglish's use of the millionaire Jack Walker's money should bring Blackburn security but on this display and in spite of Shearer's performance, there is little evidence of instant success. Rovers looked no more than moderate, but in spite of everything that the public relations men would have us believe, there is going to be an awful lot of moderate football about. In the circumstances, Rovers may well re-establish themselves in the top division without disrupting the equilibrium of the major clubs who fear Walker's money.

In the meantime, Rovers are going to have to suffer the indiscretions of their erratic goalkeeper Mimms as well as his more valuable moments. Yesterday he did remarkably well to push away a goal- bound shot from Salako, but, after 63 minutes, he pushed away a corner, also from Salako, only to see Gareth Southgate volley back past him from 25 yards.

Shearer needed to ensure that he was not upstaged when it came to spectacular goals and in the 67th minute the thought occurred that Nigel Martyn could be beaten if he could put plenty of top spin on the ball. He achieved that splendidly, and he immediately knew that if he could do that sort of thing a few times early in the season his chances of replacing Gary Lineker as England's regular centre-forward would be assured.

No sooner the thought than the deed. With eight minutes left Shearer gained possession more than 20 yards out and this time he shot low, hard and with outstanding accuracy into the far corner.

Yet this was not enough to give Rovers a first-day win, because in the second minute of added time Simon Rodger's free-kick was headed in by Palace's other substitute Simon Osborn.

Crystal Palace: N Martyn; J Humphrey, R Shaw, G Southgate, E Young, A Thorn, C Coleman (S Osborn, 82 min), G Thomas, M Bright, J Salako (S Rodger, 74 min), E McGoldrick. Sub not used: P Heald. Manager: S Coppell.

Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; D May, A Wright (C Price, 28 min), T Sherwood, C Hendry, K Moran, S Ripley, M Atkins, A Shearer, M Newell, T Dobson. Subs not used: R Wegerle, M Dickens. Manager: K Dalglish.

Referee: R Milford (Bristol).

Goals: Wright (1-0, 37 min); Ripley (1-1, 42 min); Southgate (2-1, 63 min); Shearer (2-2, 67 min); Shearer (2-3, 82 min); Osborn (3-3, 90 min).

Jack Walker profile, page 24