Football: Warhurst leads the ruining of Rovers

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Blackburn Rovers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY put the fizz back into the Coca-Cola Cup last night, scything down bewildered Blackburn with a machine-gun burst of four goals in 16 first-half minutes to set up an Arsenal-Wednesday final.

As at Selhurst Park on Sunday, when Arsenal's 3-1 away victory was deemed to have removed Crystal Palace from the equation, Wednesday left the home leg of the second semi-final little more than a formality with another powerful performance which leaves them with nine wins and a draw in their last 10 games.

Again, their match-winner was Paul Warhurst, the centre-half- turned-centre-forward who tucked away two more as if born to the role to take his tally to 10 in 13 starts since injuries to David Hirst and Mark Bright saw him pressed into service as a stand-in striker.

The other semi-final had fallen flatter than Andy's cap but, as the sponsors would say, this was the real thing. Six goals by the 38th minute. After that, what did it matter that the tie of two legs became a game of one half.

They have had some great days, and nights, at Ewood Park this season, but this was one of the other sort. Four successive defeats and Alan Shearer, whose absence has had such a demoralising effect, faced with further surgery on his troublesome knee. The big time is not quite the doddle it seemed when Blackburn led the League, back in the autumn.

Two teams who had tradition before Selhurst had a park were soon living up to it, producing a first half as good as anyone cared to remember. There might easily have been a couple of goals, at either end, before the two American stars, Roy Wegerle and John Harkes, won new stripes with tit-for-tat goals which signalled the charge.

Rovers seemed set fair when Wegerle linked up with Mike Newell and Jason Wilcox to shoot them ahead in the 10th minute, but the goal served only to provoke a stinging response which saw Wednesday 4-1 up after half an hour.

Harkes headed the equaliser after 14 minutes, stooping at the far post to bury a cross from Chris Bart-Williams, and the Owls had lift-off. John Sheridan exchanged passes with Warhurst before driving them ahead after 21 minutes, and a Blackburn defence which had shipped 10 goals in three League games was falling apart again.

Chris Waddle might have made it 3-1 after 25 minutes, Warhurst did so after 26 with a strong shot, courtesy of Gordan Cowans's defensive mistake.

The half-hour mark had Wednesday 4-1 up and making their arrangements for Wembley when Warhurst turned on a pass from Bart-Williams like a Lineker rather than a Linighan before thrashing the ball into the roof of the net.

Those final arrangements were put on hold eight minutes later, when Chris Woods and Carlton Palmer were at sixes and sevens in combating a cross from Wilcox, and the ball looped past the England keeper, via the beanpole's head.

Nigel Pearson, the Wednesday substitute, was taken to hospital after injuring himself tackling Roy Wegerle. X-rays revealed he had fractured the tibia in his left leg.

Blackburn Rovers: Mimms; Berg, Wright, Sherwood (May, 71), Hendry, Andersson, Ripley (Atkins, 52), Cowans, Wegerle, Newell, Wilcox.

Sheffield Wednesday: Woods; Nilsson, Worthington, Palmer, Harkes, Shirtliff, Wilson, Waddle, Warhurst, Bart-Williams (Pearson 66; Jemson, 79), Sheridan.

Referee: T Ward (London).

ALAN SHEARER, Blackburn's England striker, has been to see a specialist for a second opinion on a knee-cartilage injury that has kept him out of the game for six weeks. He may face a second operation.

(Photograph omitted)

More reports, page 35