Football: Pearce helps Rovers to a bitter-sweet victory

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The Independent Online
West Ham United. .1

Blackburn Rovers. 2

BLACKBURN Rovers found the winning habit again last night and highly dramatic it was, too, with their young substitute Ian Pearce scoring decisively with his first touch a minute after coming on late in the second half.

From Alan Shearer's lacerating pass, the 19-year-old claimed his first League goal for the club with a deliberate strike and kept alive the chase for the Premiership title. Yet with Manchester United's matching victory at Elland Road, Blackburn's was a success tainted with disappointment, since the task for Kenny Dalglish's persistent pursuers is now more difficult.

The game looks to be up for them as they stay two points adrift and have only two remaining fixtures to United's three. Even so, it was a win with no little significance for Rovers, assuring them of their first place in Europe next season.

That is no mean achievement in only their second year back in senior company and a tribute to Dalglish's management and Jack Walker's spending power. Last night was an occasion for their lesser lights to shine: at pounds 300,000 from Chelsea in October, Pearce is a rare recruit from the cheaper end of the market.

From the side who forfeited two points against QPR, Blackburn were without Mike Newell and David Batty through injury, Stuart Ripley adopting a more advanced role at the start.

The omens were not encouraging when, after five minutes, Colin Hendry and Tim Flowers stumbled as they went to snuff out Trevor Morley's charge. Within five more minutes, however, they were ahead when Martin Allen failed to clear a corner. Jason Wilcox returned the ball into the goalmouth for Henning Berg to head his first goal for the club.

With that, Ripley dropped deeper to help stem the runs of the full-back Kenny Brown, who two years ago to the day had provided the unlikely Upton Park match-winner which dragged the title away from United and towards Leeds. In the 28th minute, he centred to Morley, who could not quite keep the attempt on target.

Blackburn responded in similar fashion, their passing more fluent than on Sunday. Chances to extend the lead were few although Berg came close as he drew a stretching save from Ludek Miklosko early in the second half.

Soon after, West Ham were level when Allen's free-kick veered wildly off the wall and beyond Flowers. It set the stage for Pearce's grand finale but as joyously and he and his team celebrated at the time, Dalglish had it in perspective later when he said: 'We must win our last two games and hope someone else does us a favour.'

West Ham United (4-5-1): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Gale, Brown; Rush (Chapman, 62), Marsh, Allen, Bishop, Holmes (Mitchell, 83); Morley. Substitute not used: Kelly (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, May, Hendry, Le Saux; Wilcox, Atkins, Sherwood, Wright (Pearce, 73); Ripley (Morrison, 77), Shearer. Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).

Referee: T Holbrook (West Midlands).