Lord Elgin's Marbles remain contentiously within the confines of the British Museum, but Nikos Dabizas is one Greek who continues to bear gifts freely on English soil. The centre-half made a habit of granting goals and scoring opportunities in his time at Newcastle United and it has been little different since he became a Leicester City player. No one could fault the enthusiasm he brings to the job of defending, but his unrestrained exuberance has a tendency to benefit the opposition.
The latest bonus came Blackburn's way in the 42nd minute at Ewood Park yesterday. In his haste to intercept a low ball from Andy Cole, lest John Stead should reach it, Dabizas only succeeded in turning it past his own goalkeeper. Ian Walker, who has been prone to the odd howler or two himself this season, looked askance at his errant colleague. And by the sound of the final whistle, Leicester City were staring Nationwide League football squarely in the face.
Micky Adams said last week that relegation would make him feel as "gutted" as he was the day he discovered that Santa Claus was really his father. With his team six points below the Premiership safety line - with one win in 20 games and just four matches remaining now - you would have to believe in Santa to imagine the Leicester manager and his players beating the end-of-season drop. "I've been trying to kid everyone by saying we still have a chance," Adams said after the final whistle yesterday. "We possibly do have a chance and until it's mathematically impossible we'll still believe we do. But it's getting harder as the weeks go by and the games run out."
Leicester's next game happens to be at home to Manchester City, whose free-fall may yet present Adams' men with a late lifeline. As for Blackburn, sinking fast a week ago, a second win in five days has left them in a state of buouyancy once again. Before yesterday, Graeme Souness' men had not won at home since 29 November. "We've got four games left now and our destiny is in our own hands," the Rovers manager said. "That's all you could ask for."
Souness' side very nearly picked up where they had left off in their stirring 4-3 victory away to Fulham last Monday night. With seven minutes on the clock yesterday, Stead, their late match-winner at Loftus Road, wrong-footed Dabizas in the Blackburn half and drew a foul from Matt Heath 25 yards from the Leicester goal. The free-kick was touched to Vratislav Gresko, whose left-footed strike took a deflection that would have taken the ball past Walker had the City keeper not nimbly altered direction and palmed the ball wide of his right-hand post.
It was a close call for Leicester, though in territorial terms they enjoyed slightly the better of the opening quarter. Their obvious difficulty was finding a way through a Rovers defence in a resolute, no-nonsense mood. Twice in the space of three minutes Gresko removed the threat of danger by hoofing the ball over the Riverside Stand. Having watched their side ship so many sloppy goals this season, the longer-toothed Rovers fans must have rejoiced in such a prosaic John McNamee masterclass.
It took Leicester 18 minutes of hard graft to get a sniff of the home goal. Muzzy Izzet hoisted a corner-kick from the right and Jamie Scowcroft planted a header a foot or two over Brad Friedel's crossbar. At the other end, Blackburn promised much on the break, mainly through Stead's endeavour, but they delivered very little until half-time approached. The first sign of a change came when Cole slipped free on the right bye-line and pulled the ball back to Martin Andresen, whose confident right-foot drive screamed narrowly wide from a range of 20-yards.
The lone (own) goal arrived three minutes before the interval. Lucas Neill found Cole in an identical position and the striker's skidding delivery into the goalmouth was deflected into the Leicester goal by the despairing defender Dabizas. "I think the goal could have been avoided," Adams said afterwards, "but there is no blame attached to Dabizas. If he hadn't put the ball in, then the fellow behind him would have."
In search of an equaliser in the second-half, the Leicester manager pushed Marcus Bent up front with Ferdinand and Paul Dickov after half-time. In doing so, however, Adams conceded vital ground in midfield. Blackburn were not slow to exploit it but, with the industrious Andresen driving them forward, they squandered a stream of opportunities to double their lead. Cole and Stead missed three chances each, and when the tiring Andresen made way for Emerton, Leicester managed to forge some openings of their own. Bent had a shot blocked and Scowcroft hooked an effort wide.
Ultimately, though, the Foxes were goalless, beaten, and stuck in an ever-deepening hole.
Blackburn Rovers 1 Leicester City 0
Dabizas og 42
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 22,749