Football: Rovers struggle to tame dogged Shrewsbury

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The Independent Online
Shrewsbury Town . . .3

Blackburn Rovers. . .4

(aet; score at 90 min 3-3)

IAN PEARCE, such a fringe player that Blackburn have yet to allocate him a squad number, passed off his anonymity to end Shrewsbury's Coca-Cola Cup quest 12 minutes into extra time in a relentlessly fluctuating third-round replay at rain-swept Gay Meadow last night.

Signed as a defender from Chelsea for pounds 300,000 last month, the 19-year- old substitute marked his debut for Kenny Dalglish's side with a goal most strikers would have been content to claim. A lucrative one it could prove too, with last season's semi-finalists now bound for Tottenham.

Rovers' relief was almost embarrassing to behold. Shrewsbury, 71 League places below them, were assembled at a cost of pounds 330,000 - one-eighth of the sum their Premiership visitors recently lavished on David Batty. However, after falling behind early on, the Third Division's sole survivors recovered to lead 3-1 and were four minutes from a famous victory when David May scored to ensure the extra half-hour.

The closeness of the contest emphasised the extent to which Blackburn depend on Alan Shearer, who missed the match because of a back injury. Not that his absence should be offered in mitigation for his team's narrow escape, for the England striker had made little impression on Shrewsbury's defence in the 0-0 draw at Ewood Park.

Batty became increasingly influential but for a spell soon after the interval Steve Mackenzie more than had his measure. But Mackenzie, British football's most expensive teenager when Malcolm Allison bought him for Manchester City for pounds 250,000 in 1979, is now at the veteran stage. As he faded, so did Shrewsbury.

Blackburn raced into a seventh- minute lead. Colin Hendry's cross- cum-shot was steered against the post by Nicky Marker and Mike Newell turned in the rebound. Tim Sherwood fired against the bar two minutes later, an escape which encouraged Shrewsbury to the extent that they equalised in the 19th minute.

A slick build-up down their right flank ended with a low cross by Michael Brown to the far post, where the unmarked Kevin Summerfield - who will be 35 next birthday and has received free transfers from his previous five clubs - squeezed his shot past Hendry on the line.

The tie seemed to have been turned on its head in the first 10 minutes of the second half. In the 53rd minute, Newell toppled Mark Smith with a real forward's tackle and Mackenzie beat Bobby Mimms from the spot. Mimms, deputising for the Cup-tied Tim Flowers, was beaten again 120 seconds later when Tommy Lynch bundled the ball in from Brown's corner.

Shrewsbury's minds were perhaps drifting towards White Hart Lane for inside a further two minutes Mackenzie clattered Batty. Newell scored his second from the penalty and soon shook the woodwork again, the prelude to pressure which culminated in May's far-post header from a Batty free-kick in the 86th-minute.

The plain-shirted Pearce, put through by the former Leeds midfielder, gave Dalglish something to savour with an angled drive, though the Blackburn manager was a trifle harsh on his hosts afterwards. 'When you strip away the sentiment,' he said, 'we were always the better side.'

Shrewsbury Town (4-4-2): Edwards; Hockaday, Williams, Lynch, Withe; Taylor, Mackenzie, Smith (W CLarke, 73), Summerfield; Brown, Spink. Subs not used: Walton, T Clarke (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Mimms; May, Hendry, Marker, Wright; Ripley, Batty, Sherwood, Le Saux; Newell, Gallacher (Pearce, 80). Subs not used: Morrison, Talia (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

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Fan's Eye View, page 38

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