Football: Rovers' sense of loss and injustice

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Southampton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

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

AS THINGS transpired the damage was nowhere near as bad as it first looked. Events in south London were to take the same surprising turn as on the South Coast although it is doubtful if even the glad tidings from Selhurst Park could assuage Blackburn's sense of injustice and wrongdoing.

The long trek home would not have been long enough for Kenny Dalglish and his beaten team to begin to view with any understanding Joe Worrall's decision to grant Southampton a match-clinching penalty. From unpromising beginnings Blackburn had filled The Dell with dread at the prospect of an equaliser or worse when the Warrington official ruled Tim Sherwood had handled Iain Dowie's header.

For once the bleatings of one of this season's elite teams appeared to carry weight, television replays favouring the player's contention that the ball had struck him around the neck. At that stage of the game, at so crucial a point in the season, it was, according to Dalglish, 'a real slap in the face'.

No pun intended, the situation now too serious and too tense for old Tightlips to break out in a rash of bad jokes. 'We thought we could go on and win the game but the penalty gave them a cushion,' he argued.

It should not be forgotten that even without Mr Worrall's assistance Southampton were still one goal to the good, yet Alan Ball spoke for all the red-and-white- stripes by saying he had never been so delighted with a spot-kick award. 'At 2-1 I was worried the game was going away from us but as always another goal changes it again.'

So Southampton climb out of the bottom three while the one significant step to the Premiership summit remains tantalisingly beyond Blackburn, who by leaps and bounds have improved their position behind Manchester United since the start of the year. As at Wimbledon three weeks ago they are not nearly so convincing and cohesive a machine when their opponents set out to bump and block them from the road.

There was much more to Southampton than physical strength and a tenacious spirit but first they had to give Matt Le Tissier a platform to perform. Both first-half goals were of his creation. With their senior status at stake, an England place on offer and Alan Shearer and Tim Flowers in opposition he needed no extra spur to put on a show.

Going away from goal he somehow conjured a cross for Dowie's scoring header that Ball described as 'world class'. He then held off two defenders to send in Paul Allen and it was his corner which brought the moment of controversy, his penalty that deepened Rovers' despair.

Dave Beasant threatened to undo Le Tissier's work when Stuart Ripley's inoffensive shot slipped through his grasp. Then, in a passage of play Dalglish said was as good as anything Rovers had produced all season, the goalkeeper made amends to deny Shearer, who until then had been controlled by Francis Benali. .

Goals: Dowie (28) 1-0; Allen (38) 2-0; Ripley (49) 2-1; Le Tissier pen (70) 3-1.

Southampton (3-5-2): Beasant; Monkou, Widdrington, Benali; Kenna, Allen, Magilton, Maddison (Dodd, 67), Charlton (Maskell, 70); Dowie, Le Tissier. Substitute not used: Andrews (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, May, Moran (Warhurst, 74), Le Saux; Ripley, Sherwood, Batty (Morrison, 88), Wilcox; Shearer, Newell. Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).

Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).

----------------------------------------------------------------- CHAMPIONSHIP RUN-IN ----------------------------------------------------------------- Manchester United (p 37, pts 79): 23 April: v Manchester City (home); 27 April: v Leeds United (away); 1 May: v Ipswich Town (away); 4 May: v Southampton (home); 8 May: v Coventry City (home). Blackburn Rovers (38-79): 24 April: v Queen's Park Rangers (home); 27 April: v West Ham United (away); 2 May: Coventry City (away); 8 May: v Ipswich Town (home). -----------------------------------------------------------------