Double joy of the Rovers

Nationwide kick-off: Blackburn justify early favouritism as shaky Palace show cracks
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The Independent Online

In a largely one-sided fixture, Blackburn Rovers suggested this attempt to regain their Premiership status may be more succesful than the last. Last season began disastrously, culminating in the departure of Brian Kidd and installation of Graeme Souness at the helm - this time, they have laid down an early statement of intent.

In a largely one-sided fixture, Blackburn Rovers suggested this attempt to regain their Premiership status may be more succesful than the last. Last season began disastrously, culminating in the departure of Brian Kidd and installation of Graeme Souness at the helm - this time, they have laid down an early statement of intent.

Despite the absence of their big summer signing, Craig Hignett, who was suffering with an Achilles heel problem, Blackburn, the bookmakers' favourites for the title, began brightly. They passed cleanly to players in space rather than rushing the ball forward at each opportunity, as the visitors seemed intent on doing.

There was a measured patience to their build-up play, exemplified by an excellent opportunity afforded to Dam-ien Duff, the impressive Ireland international. His final shot was deflected off the shin of Neil Ruddock before cracking to safety from the post, but the move began in his own half, was worked through the middle and Nathan Blake, back in favour after being transfer-listed, teed up the chance.

Denied any sustained possession, Crystal Palace's frustrations were finally mani- fested in a string of rash challenges, most notably from Craig Harrison, signed on loan this week from Middlesbrough. After clattering the former Palace player Matt Jansen, his two-footed scything of John Curtis, after the whistle had been blown, was perhaps more worthy of a red card than the yellow which he received.

It was Jansen who caused the main headaches for the visitors. His close control was impressive but a five-man back line, robustly marshalled by Ruddock, now playing for his sixth London club, kept the young striker firing from a distance. For a while at least.

While Palace rarely threatened in the first half, they should have opened the scoring. Had Mikael Forssell squared to Clinton Morrison on the edge of the six-yard box rather than go for glory himself, an unlikely lead would have been carved out. As it was, Blackburn scored the goal their patience deserved. Dean Austin slipped at the apex of the penalty box, allowing David Dunn the time to progress and pick out Blake, whose powerful strike crashed in off the underside of the bar.

With the half-time break beckoning, Dunn was again the provider. A fine surging run culminated in a defence-splitting pass to Jansen, who skipped round the Palace goalkeeper, Stuart Taylor, a loan signing from Arsenal, before calmly tapping home.

A third looked likely just after the interval when Blake and Jansen combined at speed to provide Duff with an acutely- angled shot which hit the outside of the post and, moments later, Jansen's volleyed strike was ruled out by an offside flag.

The near-misses spurred Blackburn on and their domination was rarely threatened. In midfield, Dunn was in outstanding form.

If anything, the visitors appeared to be suffering a crisis of confidence. Given the behind-the-scenes shenanigans which prefaced the season - Alan Smith is back as manager for a second stint after Simon Jordan, the mobile- phone millionaire, took control of the club he had trials with as a youngster - that was not altogether surprising.

But the players are professionals and their collective lack of drive will have done little to persuade Smith that this is not a massive challenge. It was best summed up by Forssell who, having broken clear of four chasing defenders, squirted his shot hopelessly wide with only the goalkeeper, Alan Kelly, to beat.

As if to make a point, Smith introduced three substitutes in the last quarter of the game, and the effect was an immediate invigoration. While lacking the poise of their more costly-assembled opposition, there was at least a sense of purpose injected, though Blackburn's underworked defence rem-ained unflustered.

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