Coventry City . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
THOSE who root for Rovers should probably not draw quite as much satisfaction from this ultimately clear victory as the scoreline would suggest, though it will be comforting to know that Chris Sutton had not left his magic touch at Carrow Road.
The pounds 5m man turned executioner in the end with a handsome hat-trick but not, it has to be said, until a creaking Coventry side suffered self-inflicted damage that might have proved too much to bear even without Sutton's onslaught. Half-chances and better had come and gone during 67 minutes of irritatingly untidy football, marked by artless attack and poor passes that twice had Tim Flowers sprawling to rescue Rovers in the first half. A goalless draw was a distinct possibility until one mad minute changed everything.
Mick Quinn, Coventry's burly and sometimes belligerent striker, sensed yet another pass going astray in Blackburn's midfield, went for the interception and was bursting deep into Rovers territory when the referee called him back for deliberate handball and brandished the yellow card. Quinn appeared to express a certain discontent with the decision and Graham Poll reached for red.
Stuart Ripley collected the free-kick on the right, curled the ball in left-footed and Sutton slotted a lunging header into the bottom corner of the Coventry net before Quinn was out of sight in the tunnel. At which point, the blue sky fell in on the Sky Blues.
Fresh from a midweek mauling by the same score at St James' Park, they hardly had time to think 'not again' before Sutton had scored again. This time he picked up the ball just inside the area, unchallenged by a discomfited defence, and curled a rasping right-footer inside Steve Ogrizovic's left-hand post.
Sutton then hit that post before Jason Wilcox tried his luck from 20-odd yards and a delicate deflection directed his left-footer against and then inside the same upright. 'It was just like Newcastle - the Alamo all over again,' the outstanding Ogrizovic moaned afterwards; his heroics, including one brilliant double save, having gone to waste.
Coventry, with Dave Busst and the sought-after Phil Babb blocking up the centre of defence, had coped pretty well with the problems posed by Sutton and Alan Shearer, and Ogrizovic had dealt with the danger deriving from Ripley's string of centres. But once Quinn went there was no one able to ensure that their determination did not drain away.
Neither of Ewood Park's expensive strikers had exactly been hot-shots in the first half. They mostly aimed either high or wide or found Ogrizovic impossible to pass, but Shearer did have a dipping free-kick headed out from under the bar in the 35th minute. Once their tails were up, though, there was no stopping them, and it was Shearer's sublime skills by the right byline that set up Sutton's close-range third late on.
Goals: Sutton (67) 1-0; Sutton (74) 2-0; Wilcox (77) 3-0; Sutton (88) 4-0.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Warhurst, Gale (Pearce, 80), Hendry, Le Saux; Ripley (Atkins, 87), Slater, Sherwood, Wilcox; Shearer, Sutton. Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).
Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Borrows, Busst, Babb, Morgan; Flynn (J Williams, 81), Darby, Rennie, Cook; Wegerle, Quinn. Substitutes not used: Boland, Gould (gk).
Referee: G Poll (Tilehurst).