Football: Why Sutton should eat humble pie

Blackburn Rovers 5 Leicester City 3
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The Independent Online
DENNIS HEALEY, the former Chancellor of the Exchequor, had one golden rule in politics: when you are in a hole stop digging. Life, football, is no different and there are signs that Chris Sutton has discarded his spade.

The Blackburn striker's decision to decline an invitation to play for England B last month was foolish then and has become more of a scandalous waste since as not only has Robbie Fowler dropped out of the World Cup with a knee injury but Sutton is playing so well.

In an ideal world the England coach Glenn Hoddle and Sutton would be on the phone patching things up, although it is going to take some great gulps of pride before we get there. At least the man who committed the greater wrong had a few nibbles after scoring a splendid hat-trick against Leicester.

"I never said I don't want to play for England, just that particular game," Sutton, who has now scored more goals in the Premiership than anyone, said. "I felt I was on a hiding to nothing, but you don't have to be a genius to work out that I haven't done my chances any good.

"People will say I was rash but it wasn't an easy decision or one that I was happy to make. You have to do what you think is right. I want to play for England but I'm realistic enough to know from the conversation I had with Glenn Hoddle at the time that it's very unlikely to happen.

"I can't see anything changing. All I can do is keep on playing as well as I can and keep on pushing."

Sutton and Hoddle could do worse than have a word with Martin Dahlin, who reached the World Cup semi-finals four years ago and who has been kept on the fringe at Blackburn largely because of the prolific exhuberance of Sutton and Kevin Gallacher. The Swede described USA 94 as the apex in his career (are you listening, Chris?) but also nudged Hoddle when he added: "I can't see any better centre-forward in the country at the moment."

It was difficult to demur after Saturday's performance. None of Sutton's three goals was conventional and all spoke volumes for his confidence. His first was a backheel, his second a neat turn and shot into the corner but the third was absolutely glorious.

A cross from Tim Sherwood just eluded Robbie Savage's head but when Sutton received the ball at the far side of the penalty area he had a player and a goalkeeper between himself and the net. A nervy striker would have hit and hoped, a reasonably assured one would have tried to get nearer and improve the angle, only a player dripping with self belief would have tried a chip. Sutton did and the grin on his face afterwards was testament to the audacity.

Goals from Dahlin and Colin Hendry made the score 5-0 and the result would have been a formality until Blackburn lost the thread completely and allowed Leicester a glimmer of hope. Stuart Wilson, the excellent Muzzy Izzet and Robert Ullathorne distorted the score and put extra emphasis on a 14th minute decision that influenced the outcome.

Blackburn were 1-0 up when Steve Walsh headed a ball forward to Graham Fenton and although Emile Heskey was in an offside position he was heading towards his own goal and most linesmen would have interpreted that he was not interfering with play. So did this one for several seconds until, with Fenton halfway into dribbling round Alan Fettis, he belatedly raised his flag.

"That was extraordinary," Martin O'Neill, the Leicester manager, said. "That's the whole idea these days. If someone is coming back from an offside position, he's onside. Please don't have headlines saying this is the reason why we lost, and I know it sounds daft when we were 5-0 down, but it had a bearing. I find it a hard one to swallow."

So did Rovers' assistant manager Tony Parkes, who stood in at the press conference for Roy Hodgson allegedly because the Blackburn manager was angry about the defensive chaos of the closing minutes. He thought the decision was correct but agreed he would not have been surprised if it had gone the other way.

"It's a grey area, not interfering with play, and it has to be sorted out," he said. "No one in this room is sure where the ball has to be for someone to be offside and I'm not certain the men in black are either. The rule has to be changed, clarified."

Goals: Dahlin (10) 1-0; Sutton (24) 2-0; Sutton (44) 3-0; Sutton (46) 4-0; Hendry (63) 5-0; Wilson (72) 5-1; Izzet (78) 5-2; Ullathorne (81) 5-3.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Fettis; Kenna, Henchoz (Broomes, h-t), Hendry, Croft; Duff, Flitcroft, Sherwood, Wilcox; Dahlin (Bohinen, 73), Sutton. Substitutes not used: Andersson, Beattie, Williams (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Prior (Ullathorne, 20), Elliott, Walsh; Savage, Zagorakis, Lennon, Izzet, Guppy; Heskey, Fenton (Wilson, 68). Substitutes not used: Campbell, Carlstrand, Arphexad (gk).

Bookings: Blackburn: Sherwood, Dahlin. Leicester: Elliott.

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe)

Man of the match: Sutton.

Attendance: 24,854.

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