Football: Ripley rises and sends out ripples

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The Independent Online
Coventry City. . . 0

Blackburn Rovers. .2

THE TALK was of Alan Shearer but the mind kept going back to Stuart Ripley. Shearer, all muscular activity and direct intent, put his name on Lancastrian lips and in the headlines with his fourth goal for Blackburn but the most vivid memory of a frenetic affair at Highfield Road was of a blond winger giving his markers the slip. A cage could not have contained Ripley.

Ripley was a folk hero at Middlesbrough, where a natural skill allied to power and pace delighted his native Teessiders. But it seemed he would always be known as Stuart Ripley, the former England Under-21 player.

Until now. Having left his beloved Boro, moving to Ewood Park for pounds 1.3m, he is finally receiving the recognition he deserves. Blackburn are a limelight club: top of the Premier League and competing with commendable attacking verve. In five games, Ripley has helped them achieve this. Shearer is the one Blackburn player everyone expects Graham Taylor to name in his squad tomorrow, but the England manager must have come away from Coventry with Ripley's exuberant performance uppermost in his thoughts.

Gary Lineker, who should know a thing or two about prospective England attackers, observed on Match Of The Day that the trip to Spain might be too early for Ripley, that he might need more time to establish himself; a fair point, but given his current form no full- back, from Burrows to Brehme, would enjoy facing Ripley. Even a left-back as shrewd as Coventry's Kenny Sansom struggled to restrict Ripley's runs down the right and quickly called for support. David Smith dropped back, instantly emasculating City's attack.

No one touched the ball more often, and used it more efficiently, than Ripley. Within three minutes he had swung over four corners, three of which he had forced. His threats continued all afternoon; after 10 minutes he made ground, again on the right, before finding Mike Newell, who quickly laid the ball back to Alan Wright. The spritely Rovers' midfielder sent a low, left-footed drive winging its way towards goal before Steve Ogrizovic intervened.

Ripley kept eluding his shadowers and crossing invitingly, but Ogrizovic, like Bobby Mimms in Rovers' goal, was imperious. Until a moment of undiluted class from Shearer in the 70th minute. David May, the Blackburn full-back, drove the ball along the right touchline for Shearer to chase. Lloyd McGrath, who had had the better of Shearer until then, and Sansom formed a wall of Sky Blue. But Shearer saw a chink of light, pushed the ball through it and set off for goal, his run ended only by McGrath's trip. The penalty, taken in the teeth of gesticulating Coventry fans, was exemplary - a low drive to Ogrizovic's left.

Blackburn's mixture of the millionaire and the run-of-the-mill was encapsulated eight minutes later when a player who cost pounds 45,000 emulated the pounds 3.3m man. Ripley's umpteenth cross was met by Mark Atkins, the former Scunthorpe defender heading gently goalwards. Ogrizovic waited for Andy Pearce to clear only to see the ball trickle in off a post.

A laughable goal, scripted by Ripley. Time and Taylor will tell whether Ripley will soon be making ripples overseas.

Goals: Shearer pen (70) 0-1; Atkins (78) 0-2.

Coventry City: Ogrizovic; Fleming, Sansom, Flynn (Williams, 68), Pearce, Borrows, McGrath, Hurst, Rosario, Gallacher, Smith (Babb, 76). Substitute not used: Gould (gk).

Blackburn Rovers: Mimms; May, Dobson, Sherwood, Hendry, Moran, Ripley, Atkins, Shearer (Wegerle, 83), Newell, Wright. Substitutes not used: Cowans, Dickins (gk).

Referee: R Lewis (Great Bookham).

PHIL NEAL has been appointed England coach. The former Bolton manager, now assistant to Bobby Gould at Coventry, takes over from Alan Ball, who has been ruled out by commitments to Exeter. Neal begins his duties next week with the friendly in Spain.

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