Football: Sutton rises to the sublime

Blackburn Rovers 3 Wimbledon 1 Ward 7, Euell 65 Jansen 18, 26 Half-time: 3-0 Attendance: 21,754; Kidd's expensive Blackburn collection at last play like a team that cost pounds 18m
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CHRIS SUTTON was not the only one wiping the slate clean at Ewood Park yesterday. Taking their lead from their captain and centre-forward, Blackburn Rovers made a new start in the Premiership danger zone, destroying Wimbledon with a whirlwind attacking first-half display. Matt Jansen, with a brace, and Ashley Ward scored the goals that secured a first win in eight matches for Brian Kidd's troubled team. Sutton's, however, was the pivotal performance.

Responding to his recall to national service, the most celebrated refusenik since Cassius Clay provided a heavyweight contribution to his club's cause. He was inspirational from first to last whistle, lending credence to his manager's assertion that he happens to possess "a heart the size of a dustbin lid". Rovers may have been rubbish in recent weeks but if they maintain the first-class form they showed for 45 minutes yesterday they will surely avoid being bagged up and put out for the First Division to collect.

Not that Kidd was an entirely happy manager. "It was a decent first-half performance," was as effusive as he got in Ewood's Media Theatre afterwards. "It was disappointing that we couldn't keep it going in the second half but it was nice to see the players coming in disappointed. They weren't just happy with the three points."

This shows commendable ambition but it was their first victory since their 3-1 win at Villa Park on 6 February. In the intervening six weeks, any fizz in the champagne that Kidd got for his manager of the month award in December had gone soberingly flat. There have, however, been flatter times at Ewood, as Blackburn's No 11 could testify. Jason Wilcox was on bench duty when Rovers avoided the drop into the old Third Division in the penultimate game of the 1990-91 season, holding Wolverhampton Wanderers to a 1-1 draw. Blackburn's loyal left-wing servant suffered the drop from the England squad on Thursday but Kidd, with 11 first teamers injured or suspended, was happy to have him in his team yesterday.

Rovers looked anything but under strength as they set about their afternoon's work. They might have been half a dozen goals ahead by the half-hour, with Wilcox roving purposefully on the left, Jansen scheming impishly up front and Sutton showing his international class, despite the steam- roller subtlety of Dean Blackwell's attentions.

Wilcox and Sutton set the attacking tone, forcing diving saves from Neil Sullivan in the first two minutes and then combining on the left to set up a move that left Ward needing simply to connect with the ball on the six-yard line to open the scoring.

The former Barnsley man did not quite make it on that occasion but he did not spurn a second invitation. Four minutes later came a strikingly similar move. Sutton flicked the ball out to Jansen on the left angle of the six-yard box and the young forward cut it back inside. Ward made contact, and beat Sullivan with a side-footed finish.

Sutton was now simply unstoppable. Twice Blackwell scythed him down but the Blackburn No 9 merely picked himself up and played on. He did so in classic centre-forward style, too, commanding his air space and dropping just far enough off his shadow to provide a smoothly efficient linking service to Ward and Jansen.

It was in getting just ahead of Blackwell, though, that Sutton supplied his side's second goal. He had to stretch to control Dario Marcolin's long through-ball but his chip shot eluded Sullivan and struck the keeper's left-hand post. Though Ben Thatcher and Alan Kimble tried to scramble the ball clear, they merely succeeded in brushing it into their own goal after Jansen pounced with rapier sharpness.

Rovers were in rampant mood at that stage, with 17 minutes gone, and eight minutes later they broke through again. Sullivan managed to block a Ward shot but he was beaten by Jansen's alertness again, the England Under-21 striker poking in the rebound with his left foot.

Having started the afternoon with just a single Premiership goal to his name, Jansen thus found his account trebled by half-time. Wimbledon found themselves deep in trouble, with a defence in disarray and an attack that had rendered John Filan unemployed. A desperate remedy was required and the Dons' caretaking duo, Mick Harford and David Kemp, duly replaced Neil Ardley and John Hartson with Ceri Hughes and Efan Ekoku.

It hardly made a difference, though Blackburn took their foot sufficiently off the high-octane pedal to let the south Londoners off lightly. Wimbledon even summoned enough attacking clout to beat Filan, Jason Euell hooking a close-range shot past the Australian in the 65th minute. It will take more points to prevent Rovers from going down. But, for now, they are out of the Premiership's bottom three, looking upwards again and awaiting the return of their costly collection of the halt, lame and suspended.