Football: Rovers run riot to topple Norwich

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. . .7

Norwich City. . . . .1

ROVERS are in danger of overdoing it. To go to the top of the Premier League is one thing; to do so by beating the leaders by the biggest score the League has seen seems to be stretching the storyline.

But with Alan Shearer in his present form there is nothing incredible about the rise and rise of the Rovers. Norwich were poor enough to make a mockery of their own early-season success, but few sides could have lived with Blackburn yesterday.

Colin Hendry is not thought of as a goal-maker, but it was his hopeful long ball that unleashed Shearer and began Blackburn's maraudings.

The Norwich captain, Ian Butterworth, returning from an ankle injury, must have wished he had taken an extra week to recuperate as Shearer made light of a 10-yard disadvantage to scorch past him and pull the ball back to Roy Wegerle. Wegerle, making his first start in the Premier League in place of the suspended Mike Newell, stumbled to his knees, perhaps in thanks for his good fortune in coming into a side to partner a player throbbing with Shearer's confidence, but still had time to regain his feet and score.

Norwich wasted their one good chance, made by cultured approach work from Ian Crook and Mark Bowen, when Mark Robins's poor first touch allowed Hendry to clear.

Bowen was then embarrassed at the other end when Wegerle beat him to the ball on the byline and guided it back for Gordon Cowans. The veteran midfielder is showing that he is still too classy a performer to be left out of Blackburn's side and the ball he floated on to Tim Sherwood's head was perfection. The former Norwich player had no difficulty in looping his header over Bryan Gunn for his first goal for Blackburn.

There were doubts about the legality of the way Shearer set up Wegerle for Blackburn's third. Shearer, earlier booked for an innocuous tackle on Ian Culverhouse, got an altogether more solid contact on the hapless Butterworth, shouldering him out of contention long before another of Hendry's long clearances arrived. If that was the steel, the ball that curled over the wet grass to Wegerle was the silk. There were no prostrations in the direction of Darwen this time, just a simple sidefoot into a vacant net.

Norwich have specialised this season in successful comebacks from seemingly hopeless situations and they hinted at that possibility with a venomous shot into the side-netting from Crook.

Hendry and Kevin Moran then went for the same high clearance, with neither getting enough cranium on the ball to stop it running for Rob Newman, who kept his head to beat Bobby Mimms from a narrowing angle.

Any hope that the mines rescue might reach the choking Canary before it finally asphyxiated was shortlived. Precise interplay with Sherwood sent Shearer on his way again. He had the decency not to humiliate Butterworth again; he simply ignored his attentions, chipping the ball over him and the equally helpless Gunn from the edge of the penalty area.

The second half could so easily have been an anti-climax and a side more world-weary than Blackburn might have sat back and admired their handiwork. There was a hint of carelessness when Wegerle spurned the chance of a hat-trick, blasting high over the bar after Gunn had presented him with the ball.

Too soon for Norwich, however, it was business as usual. Alan Wright, as nimble and natural a left-back as the North-west has seen since Tony Dunne, picked out Shearer and Chris Sutton's only answer was to pull him down. The result was a booking rather than a sending-off and a free-kick from Cowans that swerved, dipped and cannoned in off the left upright.

Shearer, involved in all but one of Blackburn's goals, then hit in a cross from the right. The combined efforts of the shell-shocked Norwich defence could only clear it as far as Stuart Ripley, who stroked it home smoothly.

The admirable Wright did the preparatory work for Shearer's second, finding plenty of space down the left and sending in a glorious cross which was with equal precision nodded past Gunn. It was appropriate that it should have been Shearer who rounded off the rout.

Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; R Brown, A Wright, T Sherwood, C Hendry, K Moran (N Marker, 79 min), S Ripley (J Wilcox, 79 min), M Atkins, A Shearer, R Wegerle, G Cowans. Sub not used: D Collier (gk). Manager: K Dalglish.

Norwich City: B Gunn; I Culverhouse, M Bowen, I Butterworth, C Sutton, D Sutch, I Crook, R Newman, M Robins, J Goss, D Phillips (L Power, 64 min). Subs not used: J Polston, M Walton (gk). Manager: M Walker.

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).

Goals: Wegerle (1-0, 8 min), Sherwood (2-0, 27 min), Wegerle (3-0, 32 min), Newman (3-1, 39 min), Shearer (4-1, 43 min), Cowans (5-1, 63 min), Ripley (6-1, 70 min), Shearer (7-1, 75 min).