Football: Rovers bank on Shearer

Click to follow
Aston Villa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Shearer 38

Attendance: 40,903

HAVING been both rich and poor, Blackburn Rovers have doubtless decided which they prefer. They look increasingly comfortable with their millions and their vastly priced players are beginning to like each other's company more and more, which is often the case with the super rich.

They were not only richer but younger, wiser and better than Aston Villa yesterday and they would certainly be fitting replacements as runners-up to Manchester United. The game's solitary goal came, almost inevitably, from Alan Shearer. It was his 19th in 15 Premiership matches, a phenomenal run which, in truth, seems to have lasted most of his career.

The feeling grows that if he and Andy Cole can play for England they will forge one of international football's more menacing alliances. Cole- Shearer promises a witty harmony not seen since the days of Cole Porter. C'mon, let's do it.

Yesterday, Shearer proved his worth in the 38th minute of a match throughout which Rovers had looked fresher and more composed. Earl Barrett and Paul McGrath had been close in their attentions but Shearer suddenly found himself in an amount of space he hardly needs. The original pass to set up his characteristic strike came from David Batty, who fed Graeme Le Saux on the left. Le Saux pressed through two defenders, took one look and crossed to the man most likely to score.

While Shearer keeps knocking them in - and he was supported well by his partner Kevin Gallacher yesterday - his defence at the other end is hardly prone to giving goals away. Wondering how a Rovers back four would cope with Shearer is one of those sporting imponderables like musing on how the West Indies batsmen would fair against their bowling. Probably not very well in both cases. But the Rovers defence in its steady, unfussy way never looked like being breached by Villa.

When Dean Saunders had a heading chance to equalise midway through the second half Tim Flowers, a fellow pounds 2m-plus man, was equal to the task. That was all Villa had to show for the afternoon. Their midfield, ageing and weary, looks ponderous now and never compared well with their opponents yesterday.

Much of this was down to Batty. If Shearer is understandably the glory boy, Batty's role is likely to be equally prominent. He was reputed to be solely a crunching ball-winner; now he is becoming architect and provider.

Like Batty, however, Rovers are also probably not the complete article yet. Their control might have brought more goals and indeed Gallacher could have scored twice in the opening 10 minutes. The side-netting and Barrett denied him in short order.

Blackburn's performance certainly shed yet more disappointment on Villa's season. They have been unexpectedly fitful from the start and their elimination from Europe has accelerated their malaise. Saunders, short of goals and goal-shy, epitomises their state perhaps more than the midfield.

Blackburn would be worthy Premiership runners-up - though Batty pointed out afterwards with a twinkle in his eye that they are only 12 points behind with a game in hand, and there may be greater prizes in store.