Football:Hamann's drive denies Blackburn a consolation farewell

Newcastle United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Online
SOME PEOPLE thought it was all over for Rovers last Wednesday night. It is now.

Seven years after they arrived in the Premiership, with two goals from the debutant Alan Shearer in a 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, Blackburn took their leave with a rather point-less point from their pedestrian-paced top-flight "testimonial" match at St James' Park yesterday.

At least the 3,000 Lancastrians in attendance enjoyed their day-out. "One-nil to the Nationwide," they chanted when Ashley Ward cut the ball back for Jason Wilcox to find the back of the Newcastle net with a crisp left-foot drive eight minutes before the interval.

Ultimately, however, the relegated Rovers were denied what would have been their second league win away from Ewood this season. Dietmar Hamann's thunderous 30-yard drive five minutes into the second half saw to that.

It could have been worse for Blackburn, though. Shearer, the totem of their title-winning team five years ago, was deemed unfit to take part in their farewell to the big league.

Whether the "twinge" that precluded him from action had been caused by his old club's demise was difficult to say, though the England captain appeared on the pitch after the final whistle to take part in Newcastle's traditional end-of-season lap of honour, much to the chagrain of the Rovers followers still in the ground.

The Toon Army ushered Blackburn on their way with predictable taunts of "one season wonders," though their schadenfreude was a bit rich given that their club - without a major domestic prize since 1955 - have been none season wonders for nigh on half a century.

That may change at Wembley next Saturday, of course, but there were precious few glimpses of Cup-winning pedigree in Newcastle's plodding performance. Without a victory since their semi-final success against Spurs, Ruud Gullit's boys have been showing relegation form of late. On that score, Newcastle may care to note how far Blackburn have fallen since the teams met at Ewood in their final Premiership fixture last season.

Victory took Rovers into the Uefa Cup. Now, having failed to win all but seven of their 38 league matches this season, they will playing at such celebrated European sites as Walsall, Crewe and Grimsby.

When it was all over yesterday it was difficult to decide who was the biggest loser - Jack Walker, who paid for Roy Hodgson's investment of faith in Kevin Davies at a cost of pounds 3.6m per goal, Brian Kidd, who endured the ultimate sinking feeling yesterday while the champagne corks popped at Old Trafford, or the injured Matt Jansen, who could have joined Newcastle instead when he moved from Crystal Palace in January. "It was Blackburn's ambition that swung it," he said, words that came back to haunt him yesterday.

Goals: Wilcox (37) 0-1; Hamann (50) 1-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Griffin, Dabizas, Hughes, Barton; Lee (Glass, 52), Hamann, Speed, Solano; Maric, Ketsbaia (Saha, 64). Substitutes not used: Beharall, McClen, Given (gk).

Blackburn Rovers ( 4-4-2): Filan (Flowers, h/t); Croft, Peacock, Broomes, Davidson; Dunn (Johnson (h/t), Carsley, Wilcox, Gillespie; Gallacher (Taylor, 55), Ward. Substitutes not used: Duff, Dailly.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton).

Bookings: Blackburn: Wilcox.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton).

Man of the match: Hamann.

Attendance: 36,623.