Johansson opens account to give Rovers edge

Blackburn Rovers 2 Manchester City 0
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The Independent Football

Graeme Souness would have liked Robbie Fowler in his squad by now, if money had been no object, but he had to rely on contributions from two less obvious goal scorers to overcome Manchester City and progress into the quarter-finals of the Worthington Cup.

With Matt Jansen rested with flu, Marcus Bent gone and Corrado Grabbi apparently going, Rovers were threadbare up front and, even against opponents reduced to 10 men after 26 minutes, were by no means certain of carrying the punch to win the tie.

City lost their midfielder Christian Négouai when he was shown a second yellow card by Uriah Rennie for pulling back Tugay Kerimoglu. It was a decision that disgusted Kevin Keegan.

"It was shocking refereeing," City's manager said. "It was a lack of common sense and I've told him so. I don't care what it costs me. If the FA want to take it further I'll give them a tape of the game."

Even after that setback, City had the most dangerous man on the field in Darren Huckerby, whose sniping deserved some sort of reward. Instead, it was Blackburn who came up with the goods, from an unlikely source. Nils-Eric Johansson, the 21-year-old Swedish central defender, had not scored for Rovers until last night and had not really looked like doing so, but two minutes before half-time he produced an effort that any striker would be proud of.

Taking the ball just inside the City half he exploited City's willingness to back away from him on the assumption that he was going to look for support. Johansson, however, unleashed a shot from the edge of the area that beat Carlo Nash and squeezed inside the far-post.

Apart from that, Blackburn had only managed a couple of shots, one tipped over and one narrowly wide, from David Dunn. City, on the other hand, had carved out a couple of opportunities from which Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ali Benarbia should have done better.

Although Souness thought his side had never been in danger, he admitted that they had failed to take control. "We made hard work of it, but sometimes it's not easy to play against 10 men when they sit back and don't come at you,'' he said.

Souness had put on that forgotten man, Egil Ostenstad, who spent part of last season on loan at City. He looked desperately eager for action and his considerable presence in the air almost induced Paul Ritchie to score an own goal, but Nash saved acrobatically.

It was Ostenstad who set up the clincher, in the second minute of time added on, running wide on the right to pull the ball back for Damien Johnson, who had plenty of time to measure his shot past Nash.

Despite that late margin of comfort there was, for Souness, nothing to weaken his case for money to be spent on a new striker or two. In an ideal world, it would have been Fowler. "There was a prospect of him coming here,'' he said wistfully. "Leeds were his first choice, but we were a close second.''

Blackburn Rovers (3-5-2): Friedel; Curtis, Taylor, Johansson; Gillespie, Johnson, Tugay, Dunn (Mahon, 77) Duff; Hughes, Hignett (Ostenstad, 61). Substitutes not used: Dunning, Greer, Kelly (gk).

Manchester City (4-4-2): Nash; Dunne, Wiekens, Mettomo, Pearce (Granville, 3); Benarbia (Touré, 76), Négouai, Berkovic (Ritchie, 66), Horlock; Wright-Phillips, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Killen, Weaver (gk).

Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).