Blackburn Rovers. .1
THERE will be better performances than this from Blackburn's pounds 5m man. There will have to be. But there will be better performances from Blackburn, too. They were perfectly proficient until the final third of the pitch yesterday - when it came to the most expensive strikeforce in the land, that is. Chris Sutton could do little with his feet and it took a hand from Alan Shearer to save the match.
There has been talk for weeks of Sutton and Shearer, the pounds 8.3m duo to demolish all defences, and the dodgy foot and dodgy food that would keep them out of action. Yet here they were, with the opposition fans dying to see Rovers' affluence fail and being duly satisfied.
After just two minutes, a fleet-footed run by Stuart Ripley fed Sutton who had found space inside the penalty area. The dream start for the new man? No chance - a side-foot wide of the right post had The Dell screaming in derision. Sutton was to do no better 14 minutes later when he headed wide a cross from Graeme Le Saux, but it was Shearer who followed this up by missing Blackburn's best chance of the first half - from the penalty spot. Shearer's miss merely made an instant hero of Bruce Grobbelaar, a new signing in the Southampton net. The shot was thumped left and Grobbelaar dived spectacularly to keep it out.
By this time, however, Blackburn were chasing the match after a fantastic goal by Nicky Banger. No surprises for guessing who was the genius who created it: Matthew Le Tissier, by way of a pass from one penalty area to the next. Banger controlled the ball beautifully on his chest, charging into the area, and cracking it past Tim Flowers.
Until then, the game had been all Blackburn's. The untried Sutton-Shearer combination had little to show for its first outing, but the visitors' midfield was all-powerful. Robbie Slater, the Australian whom Kenny Dalglish signed from Lens, showed immediate confidence at Premiership level and stepped into swift control alongside Tim Sherwood.
Southampton, however, grew from strength to strength, and by the second half they were passing the ball around with a confidence bordering on arrogance. They were prised open in a controversial manner. Sutton headed the ball down to Shearer who appeared to control it with his hands; this caused the Southampton defence to stop and allowed Shearer to canter through unopposed on to goal. Grobbelaar got a touch to his side-footed shot, but not enough to stop the ball rolling into the net.