football: Sherwood ensures Blackburn's ascendancy

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 3

Sheffield Wednesday 1

Blackburn, summoning an impressive demonstration of squad strength, regained the Premiership's poll position from Manchester United at Ewood Park last night, their ascendancy over Sheffield Wednesday merely being exaggerated by the dismissal of the visitors' goalkeeper, Kevin Pressman, for the second time in a month.

Deprived by injury and suspension of Tim Flowers, Stuart Ripley, Jason Wilcox and Graeme Le Saux, Blackburn were already on course for victory when Pressman's banishment for deliberate handball left them facing 10 men for the entire second half.

The only surprise was that they managed to add just one goal - Alan Shearer's 28th of the season - two efforts by the outstanding Tim Sherwood and Mark Atkins either side of an undeserved equaliser by Chris Waddle.

Conventional wisdom had suggested that Wednesday, knocked out of the FA Cup after extra-time and penalties four days' earlier, would make ideal opponents for a Blackburn team with one win in five matches.

To an extent it proved true, the famous halved shirts pouring forward as incessantly as the rain and spurning a succession of scoring opportunities before Pressman's goal fell in the 26th minute.

Having tipped over Chris Sutton's close-range header quite brilliantly seconds earlier, the Wednesday keeper was entitled to feel aggrieved with his defenders. The ensuing corner was played to Sherwood, lurking unmarked 22 yards out, and the Blackburn captain was allowed to control the ball and advance before unleashing an unstoppable rising drive that entered the net off a post.

Sherwood, celebrating his call-up for England's visit to Dublin on Wednesday, was behind most of Blackburn's better moments.

But with the crowd still wondering how Shearer had managed to fire against Pressman's legs, Wednesday broke out to score 12 minutes before half-time. Andy Sinton's centre was cleared no further than John Sheridan, who instantly returned the ball to the danger area. Waddle, far more ruthless than in last week's shoot-out at Wolves, instinctively stabbed home from 12 yards.

Two minutes later, however, Pressman was again betrayed by those charged with protecting him. First, Des Walker needlessly conceded a corner. When the flag kick was only partially cleared, Paul Warhurst was free to drive against the woodwork, the ball squirting loose to Shearer, who had time to cross low for Atkins to bundle the ball past a defender over the line.

With the interval looming, Blackburn's cause was aided by Pressman's rush of blood. In virtually the same part of the pitch where Flowers toppled Leeds' Brian Deane so controversially in the previous fixture at Ewood Park, he left his box to make a fair challenge on Sutton. Yet when the ball broke to Warhurst, Pressman dived to parry the resultant shot with his hands while still yards out of his territory.

Pressman walked, as he did at Gillingham in the FA Cup, and Chris Woods' first act as substitute was a fine one-handed stop from Shearer's free- kick. The England centre forward was not to be denied, though, heading Henning Berg's cross powerfully past Woods midway through a second half in which the near-monsoon conditions dampened the ardour even of Blackburn's eager raiders.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Mimms; Berg; I Pearce, Hendry, Wright; Slater, Atkins, Sherwood, Warhurst; Shearer, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Gale, Newell, Given (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-1-1): Pressman; Atherton, A Pearce, Walker, Nolan; Petrescu (Williams, 50), Sheridan (Whittingham, 68), Bart-Williams, Sinton (Woods, 44); Waddle; Bright.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

n Ian Walker, the 23-year-old Tottenham goalkeeper, has been called up by England to replace Tim Flowers, who has a broken toe, in the squad for the match against the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday. Matt Le Tissier, who has flu, is regarded as doubtful to play.

More football, pages 30 and 31