Football: Shearer cuts through Oldham

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The Independent Online
Oldham Athletic. . 1

Holden 40

Blackburn Rovers. .2

Shearer 27, 49

Attendance: 13,887

BUT for the friendly attentions of one multi-millionaire, Blackburn would probably still be treading the same trail along the margins of Lancashire football as Oldham, perhaps even a few steps behind them. Today these clubs' prospects differ as widely as any haves and have- nots you might care to contrast. At Boundary Park yesterday, the visiting self-styled aristocrats emphasised the plight of their impoverished neighbours while themselves moving at least a little closer to a target of which Oldham can but dream: the top of the Premiership.

Essentially, the difference came down to the one slice of Jack Walker's pounds 23m investment in players with which no one argues, Alan Shearer. His two goals improved his current strike-rate to 16 in 15 starts this season. Since 2 October, apart from Shearer only Graeme Le Saux has scored for Blackburn.

This raises the question of what happens if Shearer is injured again. Is such reliance on one player not a worry? As far as Kenny Dalglish is concerned, it is not.

'Where's the problem?' the Blackburn manager asked. 'I don't see it as one. When Alan was injured last year, Mike Newell had a good run. Look at the number of chances we are creating. If we were not making chances, then there would be a problem.'

Four or five fell Shearer's way, including one a minute into the second half, from Tim Sherwood's excellent, low centre, from which it seemed inconceivable he would miss. But the two he put away were enough to see off Oldham.

In the first instance, his speed of reaction to chest down and strike Le Saux's cross left Tore Pedersen, Oldham's Norwegian defender starting his first match for the club, a bemused onlooker. The second required more ordinary talents, a straightforward tap-in after a hopelessly botched attempt by the home defence to trap Blackburn's front-line offside leaving their goalkeeper, Gary Walsh, facing impossible odds with three forwards bearing down on him. Walsh blocked Newell's attempt to provide the inevitable finish, but the ball spun kindly to Shearer's feet.

Oldham, who played a fluid 5-3-2 with Pedersen at sweeper, were worthy of the half-time parity that Rick Holden won them with a well-placed 20 yarder, but the relentless energy of Newell, Sherwood and David Batty, among others, overwhelmed them thereafter.

'We lost to a daft goal. In 10 seconds of madness the game was lost,' Oldham's manager, Joe Royle, said afterwards. 'But they deserved to beat us. They were very strong, very efficient. The front two, Newell and Shearer, get through so much work that they will both be needing a 100,000-mile service by Christmas.'