Blackburn Rovers dropped into the First Division two years ago with Brian Kidd complaining about "rubber dinghy men" deserting a "sinking ship". "You can't manufacture hearts," the doomed Rovers manager added. You can repair them, though, as Kidd's replacement knows only too well. In 19 months Graeme Souness has put the heart back into Blackburn.
That much was evident at Ewood Park yesterday as Rovers continued their encouraging Premiership return with their first victory in the top-flight since a 3-1 home success against Wimbledon nine games from the end of the 1998-1999 season. Unlucky to lose at Derby on the opening day and unfortunate not to beat Manchester United on Wednesday night, Souness's side saw off Spurs with goals by Alan Mahon and Damien Duff, and with 90 minutes of the kind of toil that was notably absent in the days when they were handled with Kidd gloves.
Souness did his share of toiling, too, working himself into such an animated state on the touchline that at one point he had to be escorted back to the bench by a policewoman. The tablets the Blackburn manager takes to lower his blood pressure were not strong enough to restrain him when Chris Perry clattered Matt Jansen in front of the dug-outs in the 25th minute. Souness leapt from his seat, slammed the ball down on the touchline and was remonstrating with the Tottenham players when the long arm of East Lancashire law intervened.
The drama did not end there. To the astonishment of everyone in the ground, except himself, the referee, Steve Bennett, showed his yellow card not to Perry but to Mauricio Taricco. "He definitely booked the wrong man," Tottenham's manager, Glenn Hoddle, said. "There'll definitely be an appeal. Everyone saw what happened." Not that Souness could have cared about the apparent case of mistaken identity. "I just thought it was a bad challenge," he said, explaining his outburst. "Perhaps I was too close to the action not to react. It's hard to be cold and calculated all the time. But I don't want that to deflect from the way my players worked their socks off to win today. They showed grit and determination."
They showed touches of top-class finesse, too. The game was only seven minutes old when Matt Jansen split the Tottenham defence with a superbly-timed through-ball from wide on the left, presenting Mahon with the chance to angle a left-footed shot past the diving Neil Sullivan. The jinking, probing Jansen was a threat to Spurs all afternoon and he orchestrated the 20th-minute move that finished with Sullivan being forced to parry wide a stinging drive from Garry Flitcroft.
Blackburn had their problems, too: notably countering the creative influence of the other No 10 on the pitch, the 35-year-old Teddy Sheringham. It was the Tottenham captain who prompted his side's best chance of the first-half, releasing Steffen Iversen, whose low drive from the right edge of the penalty area had Brad Friedel at full stretch. Not that Spurs could have complained had they been two goals down at the break, Keith Gillespie having crashed a right-foot volley against Sullivan's left-hand post in the 38th minute.
Spurs, however, were unlucky not to capitalise on their enterprising play early in the second half. Sheringham, showing flashes of his scheming best, prised open the home defence by playing a sharp wall-pass with Gustavo Poyet on the right edge of the Blackburn penalty area. He then unleashed a rising drive that Friedel did well to palm over his crossbar.
Rovers had to dig deep to keep their lead intact but they unearthed the cushion of a second goal in the 71st minute. A fine goal it was, too, Duff taking possession of the ball on the left side of the half-way line, beating three opponents on a diagonal run and then clipping a right-foot shot into the left corner of Sullivan's net.
That it was not Tottenham's day was confirmed three minutes later. Put through with only Friedel to beat, Iversen shot straight at Rovers' American keeper with the home goal at his mercy. The full cost of his miss could be calculated in the final minute, when Christian Ziege rifled in a left-foot drive from a range of 20 yards.
Blackburn Rovers 2
Mahon 7, Duff 71
Tottenham Hotspur 1
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 24,992Reuse content