Like Mark Twain, reports of Blackburn Rovers' demise are exaggerated. Supposedly arriving at Old Trafford a disorganised and dispirited rabble, the canon fodder fired back yesterday halting Manchester United in their tracks. Indeed they came within a whisker of inflicting a first home League defeat on the champions since December 1994.
It was a considerable surprise. Rovers, without a point before yesterday and having jettisoned their erstwhile captain, Kenny Dalglish, in midweek, had the air of a sinking ship. Instead they righted themselves and inflicted a second successive 2-2 home draw on United, who have now conceded four goals in five days at a place where they let slip only nine all last season.
Twice Rovers led, with goals from Paul Warhurst and Lars Bohinen, and if a penalty for handball against Gary Pallister had been awarded they might have gone beyond reach. United caught up thanks to Jordi Cruyff and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the international nature of the Premiership reflected in their nationalities: Dutch and Norwegian.
Blackburn may have been goalless before yesterday, but they were anything but clueless. Faced with a United side without the injured Roy Keane and Nicky Butt, they exploited a soft centre and Bohinen and Tim Sherwood had outstanding games. They directed the play in the first half, a period in which the match should have been won, but even in the second they outplayed their immediate opponents in the red shirts.
Eric Cantona, in particular, was a disappointment, giving the ball away in a manner that was wholly atypical. And the Frenchman also slapped the back of Stuart Ripley's head towards the end of the game, a transgression that fortunately for him was missed by the referee.
Not for the first time Kevin Gallacher was denied by Peter Schmeichel when, after 33 minutes, having lost his marker, Brian McClair, he attempted a near-post header. The save, a wonderful acrobatic leap low to the left propelled the ball along the line and Warhurst poked it in.
United's equaliser came five minutes later, but it was a goal that owed more to Blackburn's neglect than any home enterprise. Schmeichel's clearance should have been nullified by Colin Hendry but his header back to Flowers was too weak and Cruyff nipped in to flick the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net.
When Pallister handled the ball twice in the area just before half-time and was not punished the feeling was that Blackburn's chance had gone. Instead, they reasserted themselves with a glorious goal after 50 minutes.
Bohinen received the ball wide on the right, cut inside one tackle and then left Denis Irwin in disarray before beating Schmeichel at the near post.
United, labouring, had to do something and their manager, Alex Ferguson, went for a 4-3-3 formation by including Solskjaer. The result was a furious onslaught on Flowers' goal that could have yielded United an unjust victory. They had to be content with one goal which arrived through the 21-year- old Norwegian. Cruyff headed the ball on and Solskjaer volleyed with such power that Flowers could only parry the attempt. On the rebound the Blackburn goalkeeper had no chance, Solskjaer scoring within seven minutes of his debut.
"He's got tremendously quick feet for his age," Ferguson said of his pounds 1.5m purchase. "He's made people sit up and notice in training. He scored twice in the reserves this week and you can't hold people back when they are performing like that."
Goals: Warhurst (34) 01; Cruyff (39) 1-1; Bohinen (51); Solskjaer (70).
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Irwin, May (Solskjaer 61), Pallister, P Neville (G Neville, 31); Beckham, Johnsen, McClair, Cruyff; Cantona, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Poborsky, Scholes, Van der Gouw (gk).
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Coleman, Hendry, Kenna; Donis, Bohinen, Sherwood, Ripley; Warhurst (Pearce, 82), Gallacher (Fenton, 88). Substitutes not used: Marker, Croft, Given (gk).
Referee: S Dunn (Kingswood).
Bookings: Manchester United: McClair. Blackburn: Sherwood, Bohinen, Warhurst.
Man of the match: Bohinen. Attendance: 45,178.Reuse content