Football: Sutton settles thriller

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. .3

Atkins 52, Sutton 57, 72

Liverpool. . . . . 2

Fowler 29, Barnes 59

Attendance: 30,263

NOTABLY in the Uefa Cup against the Swedish team Trelleborgs, with whom Burnley are apparently, mischievously seeking to twin, Blackburn Rovers have not looked this season quite the pleasing team of last. They do look ominously more powerful, however.

The pounds 5m for Chris Sutton has bought and brought them a potent finisher and sharer of the burden on the muscularly dynamic Alan Shearer, and though Blackburn are not always pretty - often hitting the inside left and right channels to find two such willing workers as the easy option that saw them found out in Europe - they remain pretty effective.

Shearer created two and Sutton scored two, taking his tally to 12 in 14 games, to win a pulsating, fluctuating Lancastrian affair of national significance here and take Blackburn Rovers up to second in the Premiership. It was hard on a Liverpool side whose possession play at times recalled heydays, and especially John Barnes, who scored the best goal of the game, this season perhaps, with an astonishing bicycle kick.

It was, though, Liverpool who were on their bikes and Kenny Dalglish seems to retain a hold over the club he served with such distinction as player and manager. 'Both sets of players and fans made it an occasion to be remembered,' Dalglish said.

Indeed, with a rare 30,263 packing the ground, it was a throaty occasion that swung first one way then the other. Blackburn, after four away matches in three weeks seemingly inspired by being back in the rebuilt stadium that now bears physical testimony to the turnaround under Dalglish, and in which they have a 100 per recent record, might have had an early lead from one of several chances. Sutton neatly created two that Jason Wilcox and Shearer could not quite finish and Rob Jones headed off the line from Tony Gale.

But as they flagged after such a breathless start, canny Liverpool broke out to score. From a free-kick touched to him by Jones, Steve McManaman played in Robbie Fowler, whose shot deflected off Gale and looped over Tim Flowers for his 10th goal of the season.

Rested, Blackburn stunned Liverpool with two goals in six minutes early in the second half. First Sutton crossed from the left, the ball fell to Shearer, who crossed low from the right for Mark Atkins to turn home. Then Shearer provided again from the right byline, Sutton bundling home at the second attempt after David James had saved.

Two minutes later, however, Barnes interrupted the rampant Rovers, in whose midfield Paul Warhurst deputised commendably for the suspended Tim Sherwood to complete his recovery from breaking his leg 12 months ago, and often overshadowed the England player.

There seemed little danger when Stig Inge Bjornebye crossed from the left but Barnes, alone near the penalty spot, arched the back that was facing towards the Blackburn goal and, left-footed, guided the ball beautifully into the far corner beyond the flailing Flowers.

If Liverpool carried echoes of the Eighties - 'For a good part of the game we had control of it,' their manager Roy Evans lamented - this was a glimpse of the Barnes of the Maracana of a decade ago.

Sadly, it was not a goal to win a game, which should not detract from its lasting memory, nor even one to draw it, though Fowler could have done just that when sidefooting a good chance wide soon after. With 18 minutes left, Sutton galloped through a tackle by Neil Ruddock and drove into the far corner to bring victory for the multi-million- pound attack over the multi-

million-pound defence.

'He's done well and his goals reflect that,' Dalglish said. 'But his effort and all-round play have also been good. Overall everybody made a massive contribution. If you don't, you don't get a result against Liverpool.' It was all powerful stuff.

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