Football: Rodger and out for Blackburn

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

PALACE, without the inspirational Geoff Thomas, who has been suffering from concussion, were adept enough to trawl three invaluable points from a suddenly porous Blackburn defence in a Premier League match that attracted 14,163, even fewer spectators than for Wimbledon's visit.

Rovers are still paying lip-service to championship ambitions, but their more realistic targets must be the Cup competitions. With Alan Shearer about to return, it will be a surprise if they are not one of the first Coca-Cola Cup finalists and their opponents at Wembley could be Palace, who face Arsenal in their semi-final, first leg at Selhurst Park on Sunday.

After two successive League defeats for Rovers, in which eight goals were conceded, a reshuffle of the defence and the return of Gordon Cowans and Stuart Ripley hinted at more attacking intentions, and early on Tim Sherwood bent a free-kick on to a Palace post.

Palace were robust enough to concede a sequence of free-kicks, but the first time Blackburn transgressed they fell: from the free- kick Simon Rodger sent Chris Armstrong into Rovers' box to hit a magnificent shot from 16 yards, high under the angle.

The equaliser arrived six minutes later after Armstrong, threatening again, was robbed by Alan Wright. Jason Wilcox's measured pass gave Stuart Ripley a clear run on goal and, as Nigel Martyn advanced, Roy Wegerle ran the ball in.

Thomas's influence, as a man who fills gaps or finds and exploits them, was much missed, and an increasingly desperate Palace defence had had two narrow escapes around the box when Eric Young fouled Wilcox on the half-hour. Martyn guessed correctly to push Mike Newell's penalty-kick around the post and then made as impressive a save from Newell's header from eight yards.

The patience of the referee, Philip Wright, cracked after 47 minutes when he booked Chris Coleman for a foul on Colin Hendry; the crowd were riled and so too were Rovers, yet no one was advanced enough to take advantage of three centres by Ripley.

Offered relief, Palace were ungrateful enough to take advantage. Rodger, shaping as if to pass when 30 yards out in the centre of the pitch, suddenly fired the ball in, the shot surprising Mimms as it flew into goal. It was his first senior goal for Palace.

In the last minute Bobby Bowry cleared off the line from Hendry.

Blackburn Rovers: Mimms; Atkins, Wright, Sherwood, Hendry, Marker (Andersson, 81), Ripley, Cowans (Berg, 70), Wegerle, Newell, Wilcox. Substitute not used: Collier (gk).

Crystal Palace: Martyn; Shaw, Sinnott, Coleman, Young, Thorn, Osborn, Bowry, Armstrong, Rodger, McGoldrick. Substitutes not used: Humphrey, Ndah, Woodman (gk).

Referee: P Wright (Northwich).