Football: Shearer braced for action

Blackburn Rovers. . . .3

Shearer pen 17, 72, Sutton 56

Aston Villa . . . . . .1

Ehiogu 90

Attendance: 22,694

BOTH sides may have had this week's European duties firmly on their mind making the outcome more cheering for Blackburn, who face a visit to Sweden in an attempt to restore their status against the part-timers of Trelleborgs.

Rovers were more than worthy winners although it was obvious from the start that Villa had not come to ask them any serious questions, settling quickly into a five-men-across-the-back formation.

Arguably this was justifiable against Blackburn's pounds 8m striking partnership, but in the end it was a futile gesture as Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer's understanding continues to mature and, if the signs are to be believed, they could become the trump card which will win the pot for Blackburn.

They shared the goals in more ways than one. In the 17th minute, it was Sutton's threat that was ended by Ugo Ehiogu's foul and Shearer confidently struck the penalty beyond Mark Bosnich. The second, in the 55th minute, saw Shearer return the favour when his shot from Stuart Ripley's cross thumped off Ehiogu's chest and Sutton got his toe to the second shot and poked it beyond Bosnich. The Villa keeper obviously felt something nefarious had gone on and rushed to the referee to put his case. The result, inevitably, was a yellow card.

The deadly duo's contribution for the 71st-minute third goal, however, was the act that brought the house down around Villa's ears. Sutton confidently gathered a long clearance from his goalkeeper Tim Flowers and laid the pass precisely into Shearer's path. The England striker steamed past Ehiogu, destroying him for both pace and power to thump a thrilling 15-yard shot into the Villa net.

Had there been any zimmer frames in Ewood Park they would have been rattled in appreciation of the kind of goal that Nat Lofthouse, the Lion of Vienna, used to specialise in. A repeat in Sweden next week will certainly turn Shearer into the Lion of Trelleborgs.

By then Villa were well and truly hung out to dry and even had the misfortune to have their substitute Nii Lamptey taken off on a stretcher. His replacement Graham Fenton brought Villa a glimmer of consolation when he smacked a shot against Flowers's woodwork. The real thing came in injury time. Ehiogu, momentarily giving up the lost cause of curtailing the Shearer-Sutton menace, went forward to head Kevin Richardson's free-kick firmly past Flowers.

Villa were so intent on holding their ground that there was little or no evidence of how they will muster the wit to pull back their one-goal deficit when Internazionale come to Villa Park on Thursday. Dalian Atkinson still likes to put his head down and run at defenders, a tactic easily thwarted here, while Dean Saunders was a forlorn figure for most of the 90 minutes. One snap header which landed in Flowers's midriff was his only notable contribution.

Paul McGrath wisely left the tight marking to the younger legs of Ehiogu and Shaun Teale, before the transfer-listed defender was replaced by the unfortunate Lamptey. But even this deployment of the Irish international as a sort of sweeper could not stem Shearer and Sutton's propensity to do damage where it most hurts.