Blackburn floored by Diouf's dive

Blackburn Rovers 0 - Bolton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Football

Robbie Savage's grand entrance at Ewood Park was wrecked by a footballer every bit as controversial as the man who regards himself as the Welsh David Beckham.

It was melodramatically billed as a contest between "the two most hated men in football" but Robbie Savage's Blackburn debut was entirely overshadowed by El Hadji Diouf's blatant dive to clinch a match- winning penalty.

His turning of Dominic Matteo and burst into the area was one of the few moments of skill in a desperately ordinary Lancashire derby that would have sparked a surge of hope in Sunderland, Wigan and Ipswich. However, what followed was not even an especially crafty dive over the arms of Blackburn keeper, Brad Friedel, who looked to have ensured justice by palming away Diouf's spot-kick only for the ball to rebound unmissably to the striker's feet. Interestingly, Friedel was not even cautioned for his "tackle".

Even before the incident Sam Allardyce had decided to remove the man from Senegal. As Diouf trotted off, the Bolton manager ordered him straight into the dressing-room so as not to provoke any outburst from the home crowd sitting above the bench.

With the match over, Allardyce attempted to defend his player with the unsatisfactory argument that Bolton had suffered from a string of poor penalty calls all season. When it was pointed out to him that every bad decision damages football, he called with real passion for video replays to settle every incident, from offsides to whether the ball had crossed the line.

"Diving is not on the increase. People who say it is should have played with me. Now these players are old and legendary people claim they never used to do it, but they did," he said. "Diouf is our most fouled player, because he is skilful, but referees wave play on, probably because of his reputation."

Allardyce's counterpart, Mark Hughes, was concerned with the darker side of Diouf's reputation. "It was a poor refereeing decision," he said. "He has a reputation for diving and perhaps the referee should have done his homework." Since Diouf had escaped with a booking for elbowing Andy Todd in the first half, Hughes argued he should have been sent off twice.

This avalanche of invective swamped any impact Savage might have made. His contribution could be summed up thus: he should have been at least booked for a ludicrously uncontrolled tackle on Ricardo Gardner after just 35 seconds in a Blackburn shirt; he was given a yellow card for another wayward challenge after 17 minutes; while in the second half Kevin Nolan was fortunate to escape with just a booking for an ugly lunge on the Welshman.

But in terms of hate figures, there was no contest.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Mokoena, Matteo; Emerton, Savage, Thompson, Pedersen; Gallagher (Stead, 62), Bothroyd (Johnson, 62). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Johansson, Reid.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Haim, N'Gotty, Gardner; Campo; Nolan, Okocha (Davies, 52), Speed; Giannakopoulos (Pedersen, 68), Diouf (Fadiga, 79). Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Hierro.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).