Football: Sutton finally secures place in Europe

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 1 Newcastle United 0

NO ONE would describe it as a charge, but Blackburn staggered over the line yesterday and into the Uefa Cup. If they had been marathon runners they would have had silver foil wrapped round them and been rushed off to visit the medical staff.

Blackburn hit the wall at the turn of the year when they had hopes of the championship. Europe, of any kind, was their aim, however, and they guaranteed it with only their fifth win in the League since 20 December. Even then they had to wait until the 88th minute to secure the points that gave them sixth place.

The goal was scored by Chris Sutton, his 21st of the season, who thumped a free-kick past Shay Given from around 20 yards. Obligingly, Newcastle were down to 10 men at this time after David Batty's dismissal.

"This is a game we must win," Jack Walker, Blackburn's owner, had told the crowd before the kick-off, which was a useful reminder because there was little evidence to suggest the home players knew until Sutton scored.

Newcastle, who had nothing to play for, dictated the tempo and had more possession until Batty's sending off allowed Blackburn space. As Kenny Dalglish's team has found, the ball is of little use if you do nothing with it and, with a pedestrian midfield of John Barnes and Batty, the onus was on either Alan Shearer to manufacture something on his own or for Gary Speed to charge forward.

Enough of Newcastle's shortcomings, it was up to Blackburn to do more than nullify the visitors' predictable patterns and, for 90 per cent of this game, that they failed to do. Gary Flitcroft was just unable to reach Damien Duff's cross after 22 minutes and Chris Sutton was wide with a volley three minutes later but the first half was a barren landscape.

Blackburn's manager, Roy Hodgson, had been so mystified by his players' performance that he was off the bench urging his players forward and after 54 minutes he got a response. Of sorts.

Jason Wilcox outpaced Andrew Griffin on the left and cross with such precision that the ball eluded Philippe Albert's lunge and slid perfectly for Sutton at a range of about three yards. His touch was not as perfect, however, and the ball slid, untouched, beneath his feet.

By this stage a goal looked rarer than diamonds but the balance was tipped when Batty was sent off after 64 minutes. He had lost the ball in a tackle to Flitcroft and lashed out at him , giving David Elleray no option.

Blackburn had the upper hand but had to wait until Martin Dahlin was brought down on the edge of the area. Sutton, at last, secured European qualification.

Goals: Sutton (87) 1-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Henchoz, Hendry, Wilcox; Ripley (Croft, 3; Dahlin, 72), Flitcroft, McKinlay, Duff; Gallacher, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Anders Andersson, Broomes, Filan (gk).

Newcastle United (3-5-1-1): Given; Watson, Dabizas, Albert; Griffin, Batty, Barnes (Andreas Andersson, 53), Speed, Pistone; Ketsbaia (Hamilton, 66); Shearer. Substitutes not used: Rush, Pearce, Hislop (gk).

Sending off: Newcastle: Batty (64).

Bookings: Blackburn: Hendry, Henchoz. Newcastle: Dabizas.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Attendance: 29,300.

Man of the match: Dabizas.