Short to the rescue as Rovers are put to the test

Blackburn Rovers 1 - West Bromwich Albion 1
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The Independent Football

On the opening day of last season Blackburn Rovers swept Wolverhampton Wanderers away with a 5-1 victory at Ewood Park.

On the opening day of last season Blackburn Rovers swept Wolverhampton Wanderers away with a 5-1 victory at Ewood Park.

Yesterday they entertained another newly promoted Midlands side, but in West Bromwich Albion they encountered far sterner opposition and had to settle for a draw that was a fair reflection of what both sides deserved.

Neil Clement's deflected free-kick gave West Brom a first-half lead they held until 36-year-old Craig Short's headed equaliser 20 minutes from time.

Blackburn at least avoided the ignominy of adding to the 10 home defeats they suffered last season, while West Brom belied their status as favourites for relegation, with Nwankwo Kanu's trickery providing a pleasing foil to the industry to be expected from Gary Megson's team. "Some of Kanu's work holding the ball up was marvellous," said the West Brom manager.

With Vratislav Gresko pushed into central midfield alongside Dominic Matteo and Barry Ferguson, there was no place in Blackburn's starting side for Tugay Kerimoglu, while Garry Flitcroft was left out altogether.

Unsurprisingly, it took the home side some time to come to grips with an unusual system that saw Michael Gray deployed on the left of a three-man defence and Brett Emerton operating as a part-time right-back.

The visitors' more orthodox 4-4-2 gave them a look of purposeful solidity. Kanu repeatedly held the ball up intelligently before bringing the likes of Andy Johnson and Jonathan Greening into play, and with Paul Robinson supplementing their attacks from left-back, Blackburn were increasingly forced to retreat as the first half wore on.

West Brom earned the slice of luck that saw Clement's 25-yard free-kick deflected past Brad Friedel after Matteo fouled Geoff Horsfield.

Graeme Souness's response was to make a double substitution at the break, Paul Dickov and Tugay replacing Gresko and Javier de Pedro, who had made little impact on debut.

"It was a lacklustre first-half performance," admitted Souness. "But we didn't get dispirited and that was encouraging. The wall didn't do its job for their goal and that made it difficult, having to come from behind."

Both the players and the home support eventually rallied, despite the efforts of Kanu at the other end. The Nigerian was offering a reminder of his sublime talents, at times torturing Matteo, his second-half marker. But with 20 minutes to go, Blackburn drew level. Jon Stead's cross from the right was met by Short's uncompromising header.

Tugay shot narrowly wide from long range before a last-ditch tackle from Horsfield, of all people, denied Emerton as West Brom held out for the draw they deserved.

"We would have settled for 1-0, I don't think I can dispute that, and in the end it's a good point for us," said Megson. "But then again we were ahead and maybe with a bit more belief we could have held on."