Football: Shearer lays claim to Lineker's mantle

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The Independent Online
Coventry City . . . . .0

Blackburn Rovers. . . .2

GOALSCORERS, like comics, know timing is everything. With Graham Taylor watching at Highfield Road yesterday, Alan Shearer picked a fine time to give a solid display of forward play, leading the line with intelligence and muscle and scoring his fourth goal of the season to send Rovers to the top of the Premier League.

If Shearer's name was on the lips of every Blackburn fan as they trooped out of the ground, it is also likely to be high on Taylor's list of probable starters for the international against Spain on 9 September, the squad for which the England manager announces next week. 'I was lucky that he saw me today,' Shearer said before departing to be with his pregnant wife. Shearer's life is all hits and missus.

Kenny Dalglish keeps stressing that his team is a collective unit and not a collection of expensive individuals, but his most costly signings, Shearer, Mike Newell and Stuart Ripley, stood out in an occasionally inspired match. Rovers tore into an injury-troubled Coventry from the moment Ray Lewis first put lip to whistle, forcing four corners in the first three minutes. Ripley caused all sorts of mayhem down the right and looks to have moulded a strong attacking combination with Newell and Shearer.

Steve Ogrizovic's goal was besieged in the first half as Ripley wove his spells. Dalglish, not one to single out performances, said: 'Stuart played very well.' After 10 minutes, Ripley, an outside bet for an England call-up, found Newell who laid the ball back to little Alan Wright, a full-back revelling in his midfield role. Wright let fly, forcing a good save from Ogrizovic.

Newell, set up by Shearer, then brought an even better stop by Ogrizovic, the burly keeper dropping smartly to steer a low shot around his right-hand post.

Wright and Newell were behind many of Rovers' best moments. The two teamed up again in the 25th minute to give Shearer his first real sight of the goal. Newell found Wright whose left-footed cross was met firmly by the England striker, his header arrowing narrowly wide.

Rovers received no tangible return from 45 minutes of perspiration and the odd touch of inspiration. The second half was a closer contest - Rovers simply converted their share of chances.

Kevin Gallacher, the Coventry striker, had two opportunities to put the hosts ahead but still looked below his pacey best and Bobby Mimms gathered the ball safely each time. Rovers survived and responded in the most positive fashion with a goal of rich class from the pounds 3.6m man in the 70th minute. Shearer, following Ripley's example, broke down the right, pursued by a posse of Sky Blue shirts. He checked inside, only to find his path to goal barred by Kenny Sansom and Lloyd McGrath. Shearer merely looked up, dropped a shoulder as if shrugging nonchalantly and threw his markers off balance - a chink appeared which he swept through with the ball. His clear run on Ogrizovic was ended only when McGrath, desperately trying to repair the situation, caught Shearer's heels to concede a clear penalty.

Shearer stroked the spot kick past Ogrizovic. It was pure Lineker, but his next action was anything but - a yellow card for kicking the ball away. 'He and Lloyd McGrath had a great battle,' Bobby Gould, the Coventry manager, said. 'But he is a tremendous player and took the penalty confidently.'

Gould's embattled team, missing the steadying influence of Stewart Robson, fell further behind nine minutes later. Ripley again prospered down the right flank, and crossed invitingly to the far post. Mark Atkins directed a soft, downward header towards goal which Ogrizovic expected Andy Pearce, his strapping stopper, to clear. The result? Humiliation as the ball trickled in off the post with Ogrizovic stranded and livid.

Rovers' fans, resplendent in their away shirts of red and black, filled the air with their joyous singing, alternating 'Shearer' with 'We are top of the League'. Dalglish was less impressed at the millionaire club's exalted status. 'If you have more points than anyone else, then you will be top of the table,' Dalglish said.

You cannot argue with such logic - nor with the money that buys players like Shearer.

Coventry City: S Ogrizovic; T Fleming, K Sansom, S Flynn (J Williams, 68 min), A Pearce, B Borrows, L McGrath, L Hurst, R Rosario, K Gallacher, D Smith (P Babb, 76 min). Sub not used: J Gould (gk). Manager: B Gould.

Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; D May, T Dobson, T Sherwood, C Hendry, K Moran, S Ripley, M Atkins, A Shearer (R Wegerle, 83 min), M Newell, A Wright. Subs not used: G Cowans, M Dickins (gk). Manager: K Dalglish.

Referee: R Lewis (Great Bookham).

Goals: Shearer (0-1, 70 min); Atkins (0-2, 79 min).