Football: Shearer puts Rovers in the mood

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Shearer 6, pen 82, Sherwood 27

Swindon Town. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Fjortoft 4

Attendance: 20,046

AS THE gap at the top of the Premiership continued to narrow yesterday from indecently outsize to supermodel's-waist proportions, Blackburn Rovers claimed to be unexcited. After they had duly dispatched Swindon, the 18th team to do so this season, their manager, Kenny Dalglish, said: 'We have just got to look after ourselves. As long as we can control our own destiny we'll be all right.' He rebuffed any suggestion that he might now be at the excited or nervous stage.

Still, the mood of the Scottish managers of the two leading clubs is no less fascinating than the contest for the title. Compared to Alex Ferguson, who is reported to be increasingly testy at his team's treatment in the press, Dalglish is a picture of smiling calm. If he ever decides to quit football management again it might only be for the role of provider of canned laughter in a television sitcom.

It seemed only a matter of time before Rovers scored yesterday. In the event it took a mere six minutes, but by then the script had already been written, for it was only the equaliser. Having threatened with a fourth- minute cross which went unattended as it went along the face of the goal, Swindon went ahead 30 seconds later. Lawrie Sanchez pushed the ball forward for Jan Age Fjortoft, the Rovers defence decided against either moving or turning and the Norwegian thumped his drive past Tim Flowers for his 11th goal in 10 games.

Order was quickly restored. From a free-kick on the left the ball reached Alan Shearer. He cut inside in the sort of space he must dream about and sent a rasping drive past Fraser Digby. This might have been the signal for the Swindon goalkeeper to hone further his method for bending his back and picking the ball out of the net - Swindon keepers have done it 87 times this season - but he saved himself the bother. His defence was not over-helpful on occasions with the full-back Paul Bodin being especially generous to Stuart Ripley. In both halves Digby responded well to danger.

Not that the Rovers defence was without blemish. While they gradually seized control there was as much confusion in their six-yard box as in the government's approach to Europe, and somebody more incisive on goal than Martin Ling might have restored Swindon's lead. With some slightly slipshod challenges all around - except perhaps between David Batty and Sanchez, whose exchanges were more explicit than a sex education leaflet - another goal was inevitable.

It arrived in the 28th minute. Shearer's cross from the right rebounded from defence, and was picked by by Henning Berg, who threaded it through for Tim Sherwood to sweep his shot accurately and low to Digby's right.

It was fitting that Sherwood should score. He was involved in many of Rovers' moves yesterday, and he is catching the eye so much that soon he will no longer merit the designation 'unsung'.

The first half could have yielded more goals and while the second was not quite so open the game was never less than attractive. Flowers denied Swindon an equaliser with a wonderful, if belated, dive from Fjortoft's volley early on, but it was Rovers who were worthy of victory, and they sealed it in the 80th minute.

Ripley was tripped on the edge of the box. Shearer, ending a barren period, rammed home the penalty off Digby's groping hand to prove that whatever else Swindon have had this season, luck is not it.

Shearer is slightly more excited than his boss. 'We just kept plugging away. A lot of people said Manchester United have won the championship. We never believed it. It's going right down to the wire.'

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