Dickov's tenacity gives Blackburn the edge

Blackburn Rovers 1 Leicester City 0
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The Independent Football

Almost exactly a year after he was incarcerated for a week in a Spanish prison with two Leicester City colleagues on charges of sexual assault that were eventually dropped, Paul Dickov got Blackburn Rovers out of jail and into the FA Cup semi-finals yesterday for the first time since 1960.

Almost exactly a year after he was incarcerated for a week in a Spanish prison with two Leicester City colleagues on charges of sexual assault that were eventually dropped, Paul Dickov got Blackburn Rovers out of jail and into the FA Cup semi-finals yesterday for the first time since 1960.

With only seven minutes of a goalless, soulless sixth-round tie remaining, Dickov bludgeoned a controversially awarded penalty past Ian Walker. His 10th goal since a summer transfer from Leicester thus ended his former club's dogged bid to drag the Premiership team back to the Walkers Stadium for a replay against the side lying 19th in the Championship table.

The spot-kick had been given by Neale Barry on the advice of a linesman after Morten Gamst Pedersen, the Blackburn midfielder, fell under challenge by Darren Kenton, who is on loan from Southampton. The tackle was ill-advised, if not necessarily illegal, and to judge by the time he took to make up his mind, the referee shared the doubts voiced by Leicester's manager, Craig Levein.

"Darren slid in to try to block the ball," Levein said. "I'm disappointed that the official had a decent view and obviously didn't think it was a penalty. You can see from the TV that he's not sure. It's a Cup quarter-final and I just think that if the referee's assistant is going to give a penalty in such an inconclusive situation, he's a brave man."

It would be over-egging matters to suggest that Dickov also demonstrated bravery in converting the penalty, but the waspish Scot certainly showed bottle. Playing with a groin problem, at what the Blackburn manager Mark Hughes later described as "70 per cent fitness", he also had the problem of Walker having a good idea which side of goal he likes to put the ball.

Dickov circumvented this difficulty by driving his kick straight down the centre of the goal, the ball narrowly missing the goalkeeper's trailing foot as he plunged to his left. The taunt of "You couldn't score in La Manga" stuck in thousands of Leicester throats.

Hughes, whose four winner's medals made him the most successful FA Cup competitor of the 20th century, praised Dickov for "putting his hand up and volunteering to play" even when carrying an injury. The Welshman relished the prospect of returning to Cardiff for the semi-final, having enjoyed some heady nights at the Millennium Stadium while in charge of the national side.

Leicester, by Levein's admission, came to Ewood Park for a draw. "I make no apologies for our game plan," he said. "We came to defend and to take the tie back to our place. It might have been worth £1.5m to us [to get to the last four]. Now all the hard work we've done, not just here but in the previous rounds, has been undone by one decision."

Sympathy would have come more easily had Leicester made any attempt to win the game. Against an under-strength Blackburn team they seldom lent any support to their lone striker, Mark de Vries. They mustered two shots and one header, none genuinely troubling Brad Friedel, making it hard to imagine how they had won at Charlton in the fifth round.

Blackburn also started with one up front. Only after Jonathan Stead was sent on to complement Dickov early in the second half, in what became a 4-4-2 formation, did the contest begin to liven up.

We might not have had to wait so long had Pedersen's free-kick gone in rather than slapping Walker's left-hand upright with just four minutes played. Without the early breakthrough, and with midfield over-congested, the match swiftly slipped into a factious stalemate, illuminated only by the surprising elegance of Dion Dublin in central defence for Leicester.

"Dion Ferdinand", as one press-box wag dubbed him, moved into a more familiar attacking role in the final minutes. Yet Blackburn held out with relative ease and, despite being outsiders in the semi-final line-up, will harbour hopes of a lifting the Cup for a seventh time - a mere 77 years after their sixth triumph.

Goal: Dickov pen (83) 1-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Johansson; Thompson, Reid (Emerton, 68), Mokoena (Stead, 57), Flitcroft, Pedersen; Dickov. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Tugay, Matteo.

Leicester City (4-5-1): Walker; Kenton, Dublin, Dabizas, Maybury; Gillespie, Williams (Hughes, 88), Gudjonsson, Nallis (McCarthy, 86), Tiatto (Connolly, 88); De Vries. Substitutes not used: Hirschfeld (gk), Stewart.

Referee: N Barry (Lincolnshire).

Booked: Blackburn Dickov; Leicester Dabizas, De Vries, Gillespie, Tiatto.

Man of the match: Dublin.

Attendance: 22,113.

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