Football: Shearer keeps Blackburn on full power

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers . . .4

Nottingham Forest. . .1

BLACKBURN'S well-funded ambitions and Alan Shearer's drive to become England's senior goalscorer continue to sweep aside the old guard. Yesterday at Ewood Park the victims were a Forest team who sank to the bottom of the Premier League and have not looked as vulnerable for years.

In spite of this result, these two clubs may well settle in mid-table. For football's sake, that would be an equitable situation. For Blackburn to have money thrown at them by a man who prefers to own a football club than an ocean cruiser and to finish too high too quickly would be disheartening for the many and dangerous for the few who would want to keep competing on a spiralling, debilitating transfer market. Not that Blackburn started that problem.

Forest used to compete with the richest but even former European champions now have to withdraw when the bidding gets silly. They will soon be spending what they have to replace Teddy Sheringham. Certainly their start this season - their worst for 18 years - tells of the need, but there are not many Alan Shearers to the pound. Would Brian Clough really sell his own son for a pot of gold and the chance of buying Forest out of trouble? It would outrage the fans, who have seen the departure of Des Walker and Darren Wassall, as well as Sheringham, but it could happen, especially if Clough is prepared to risk re-purchasing Neil Webb, whose ebbing career is in need of revival, as well as Nigel Jemson. Webb has been told by Manchester United's manager, Alex Ferguson, that he can leave Old Trafford.

Stuart Pearce's elevation to the England captaincy brought no turn of direction for Forest nor improved his own confidence. Four minutes into an absorbing game he conceded a free-kick when struggling against Stuart Ripley's footwork, and although he quickly got back into the goal area Kevin Moran's kick eluded him and fell nicely to Shearer two yards out. In present form Shearer was not going to mistime the volley, which crashed past Mark Crossley. Pearce compounded his errors by being booked for an ugly tackle, again when facing Ripley, but Forest were temporarily reprieved after 14 minutes.

Whether the equaliser was yet another example of a player hesitating because of the rule forbidding back-passing to the hands of the goalkeeper it was difficult to say. Certainly Moran seemed consumed by indecision as he went to head Crossley's long clearance. His uncertain header dropped to the marauding Gary Bannister, who shot in from 15 yards.

The goal was fortunate yet justified in terms of Forest's enduring ability to play flowing, accurate football even when about to be routed. Here for 45 minutes Scot Gemmill and Roy Keane were bright and busy in midfield while Clough threaded a patchwork of enterprising passes across the breadth of the Blackburn defence, but Bobby Mimms was equal to the ensuing finishing.

Where Blackburn were always the more impressive was in the last stages of their attacking. Although Forest have made some adjustments, bringing in Carl Tiler to steady the centre of their defence, Shearer was never under their control and was particularly eye-catching when he confidently turned on a hard through-ball from Tim Sherwood and dipped a fine shot not far over the top.

Clough was similarly unfortunate shortly before half-time when Gemmill again created an inviting opening which Clough quickly filled far out on the left side. As Mimms moved off his line Clough tried to curl the ball round him but the goalkeeper thrust out a hand and cleverly deflected. That was to be Forest's last chance. Blackburn began to realise that of all areas, Forest's left side of defence was their vulnerable spot. Pearce was missing tackles and Tiler was unable to stop up the gaps.

Over a period of 10 minutes Forest were totally deflated. Shearer is certainly on a high and not only as a goalscorer. His excellent through-pass after 52 minutes was well picked up by Mark Atkins, who evaded Steve Chettle and shot in. As Blackburn began their rampage, the physical softness of this Forest side became obvious. Mike Newell almost walked across the face of their goal, beating three flimsy tackles, yet his effort to find a perfect opening resulted only in his forfeiting the chance.

Shearer's strength on the ball was formidable, and altogether too much for Tiler, who resorted to bringing him down to the ground after 59 minutes. The referee had just refused a lesser penalty appeal. This one he could not resist and Shearer himself smashed in his sixth goal in six matches.

Forest were in trouble enough without suffering the eccentricities of Crossley. The goalkeeper had gripped a header from Colin Hendry after Ripley's corner. Hendry and everyone else turned away when suddenly Crossley was seen to be rolling back across his own line to concede Forest's fourth.

Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; D May, T Dobson (R Wegerle, 80 min), T Sherwood, C Hendry, K Moran, S Ripley, M Atkins, A Shearer, M Newell, A Wright. Subs not used: G Cowans, M Dickins (gk). Manager: K Dalglish.

Nottingham Forest: M Crossley; B Laws, S Pearce, C Tiler, S Chettle, R Keane, T Orlygsson, S Gemmill, N Clough, G Bannister, G Crosby. Subs not used: L Glover, S Stone, A Marriott (gk). Manager: B Clough.

Referee: R Nixon (West Kirkby, Wirral).

Goals: Shearer (1-0, 4 min); Bannister (1-1, 17 min); Atkins (2-1, 52 min); Shearer, pen (3-1, 59 min); Crossley, og (4-1, 62 min).

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