Football: Ripley yields a telling finish

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The Independent Online
Oldham Athletic . . .0

Blackburn Rovers. . .1

A GOAL from Stuart Ripley 10 minutes from full-time continued Blackburn Rovers' holding operation in the absence of Alan Shearer.

For the preceding 80 minutes, the two sides had resembled characters in a rather brittle comedy of manners, engaging in a dialogue of sporadic wit but desperately in need of a punchline.

Shearer, recuperating from his knee operation, could have been expected to provide that finish, but, in his place, Roy Wegerle's frail skills flitted ineffectively in and out of the match.

Oldham missed Graeme Sharp, absent with a back injury, almost as much, with Ian Marshall looking a blunt instrument as he led the line with endless willingness but in no particular direction.

An unpredictable wind and a pitch of compacted mud and sand with a light top-dressing of dead grass did not help matters either. By the time the goal arrived, most at Boundary Park had despaired of either side finding the precision to break the stalemate.

Wegerle, one of three Blackburn players booked, did at least play an important early part in the goal, working the ball out of a tight corner in defence to relieve Oldham's pressure. Alan Wright took the ball on and found Jason Wilcox running clear on the left wing with a depleted Oldham rearguard ahead of him. His cross was low, early and accurate. Ripley, drifting in from the opposite flank, reached it before Oldham's goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard, and tucked it inside the near post.

The winner came immediately after Oldham's best opportunities to snatch a win that would have helped to ease their worries at the foot of the Premier League. Marshall's cross had been nodded down by Ian Olney, but Paul Bernard had miskicked horribly from a couple of yards in front of a vacant net. Then Kevin Moran's broad chest had deflected Neil Adams's shot dangerously close to his own post.

Adams, like Ripley, had threatened to decide the match with his wing play. An Olney half-volley in the first half from his cross, and a chance he laid on only for Marshall to blaze over the bar, could both have put Oldham ahead.

Ripley's pace was a more constant danger and when others failed to capitalise on his work he had a couple of decent shots himself. It was appropriate that his late touch should be the one that clinched the issue. It was the sixth goal of the season for a pounds 1m player bought primarily to provide chances for others. Given Blackburn's difficult present circumstances as they flounder without their usual match-winner, he will score few more valuable.

It was easy to sympathise with the Oldham manager Joe Royle, however, when he described Blackburn's goal on the break as 'cruel'. As he said, 'Nil-nil would have been an appropriate result.'

Oldham Athletic: P Gerrard; G Halle, N Pointon, P Bernard, R Jobson, C Fleming, N Adams, I Olney, I Marshall, M Milligan, S Redmond. Subs not used: R Palmer, N Tolson, J Keeley (gk). Manager: J Royle.

Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; D May, A Wright, T Sherwood, C Hendry, K Moran, S Ripley, G Cowans, R Wegerle, M Newell, J Wilcox. Subs not used: M Atkins, N Marker, D Collier (gk). Manager: K Dalglish.

Referee: A Buksh (London).

Goal: Ripley (0-1, 80 min).