Football: Wegerle's late show numbs Newcastle

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. .1

Newcastle United. .0

IT WAS not the spectacle we had anticipated, it was not even Kenny v Kevin. Kevin Keegan stayed away, still suffering from a bout of flu. And yet it was decided, less than a minute from the end, by a goal which Keegan and Kenny Dalglish would have relished at their playing zenith, a goal worthy of earning any team a place in the last eight of the FA Cup.

Roy Wegerle, the one player on view blessed with the touch and instinct to lift himself above the mediocrity, produced his artistry when everyone else was resigned to a replay.

The Blackburn forward collected the ball in a seemingly innocuous situation, confronted as he was by two defenders and Pavel Srnicek, the goalkeeper. He checked and probed, and checked and probed again. Then he darted to his right, round the hapless Brian Kilcline and beyond the range of Barry Venison. Suddenly he had a sight of goal and delayed his strike no longer. A shot flashed across Srnicek and into the corner of the net. Kilcline slumped in despair, though in truth he had lurched towards the brink once too often.

'This means everything in the world to us after recent results,' Wegerle said. 'We just wanted a bit of luck and that's what we got.'

The absence of Keegan served to drain some of the poignancy from the occasion and the first- half football lacked the electricity the former England captain has generated throughout his career on and off the pitch. Both teams had been nursing bruised pride of late and it showed in the reticence of their football.

Wegerle, dropping off Newcastle's back line, found a space to demonstrate his controlling composure, while Liam O'Brien offered Keegan's side a similarly calming influence. All very admirable. Unfortunately, this was a tie which cried out for an injection of pace and energy, ingredients we expect from momentous conflicts.

Newcastle's travelling supporters, of course, played their part, attempting to raise the temperature if not the roof. That had already been removed as part of ground improvements. Newcastle, with only one win from their six previous matches, were perhaps unduly respectful, but then the onus to force the pace was on Blackburn and, after four successive defeats, their play was inevitably guarded.

It also lacked the wing power of Stuart Ripley. The pounds 1m signing had to leave the ground before the kick-off for a Middlesbrough hospital where his wife had gone into labour.

Kevin Moran, restored to the heart of Blackburn's defence and the captaincy, might have exerted a positive influence after 13 minutes, appearing behind Newcastle's defence to meet Tim Sherwood's flighted free-kick. Moran's outstretched leg could not quite direct the ball on target.

Newcastle suffered much the same malaise. The centre-half Kevin Scott found space at the far post to plant his forehead on Kevin Sheedy's free-kick. The effort, however, dropped straight in the arms of Blackburn's goalkeeper, Bobby Mimms. Robert Lee mustered a little more venom with his low shot, but Mimms was able to drop down and smother it. Kevin Kelly gave himself room for a header, which cleared the crossbar.

Newcastle survived perilous moments at the start of the second half, when Wegerle burst down the right and tested Srnicek with a blistering shot. The keeper parried and Jason Wilcox pounced only to have his first shot blocked and lift the rebound over the beckoning goal. Srnicek was soon lunging to Newcastle's rescue again, this time saving from Sherwood.

Moran was in the wars again in the 61st minute, but served his team in the process. He required treatment after taking a shot from Gavin Peacock in the face. Blackburn had the heroics of Mimms, too, to thank. He ventured way out of his area to win two crucial challenges.

Kilcline somehow survived a couple of embarrassing indiscretions as Blackburn pressed forward in search of a winner. But his luck ran out in the last minute when Wegerle reinforced our faith in class.

Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; D May, A Wright, T Sherwood, C Hendry, K Moran, M Atkins, G Cowans, R Wegerle, M Newell, J Wilcox. Subs not used: T Dobson, S Livingstone. Manager: K Dalglish.

Newcastle United: P Srnicek; B Venison, J Beresford, L O'Brien, K Scott, B Kilcline, R Lee, G Peacock, D Kelly, L Clark, K Sheedy (P Bracewell, 68 min). Sub not used: A Neilson. Manager: K Keegan.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

Goal: Wegerle (1-0, 89 min).