Harford finds the silver lining

Blackburn Rovers 1 Arsenal 1
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The Independent Online
By most obvious criteria it has been a disappointing season for Blackburn, but around Ewood Park the mood remains irrepressibly upbeat.

Jack Walker went on to the pitch before the kick-off, to tumultuous applause, performing, one sensed, a little reprise of those cherished moments of a year ago. There was even some silverware to show off, and although the player of the year cup handed to Colin Hendry does not quite compare with the Premiership trophy, it did not seem to matter. There was more of the same at half-time, when the sound system belted out "We are the champions" in honour of the A team in the Lancashire League.

But Blackburn are no longer the real champions and after the failed defence of their title it is hard to substantiate Ray Harford's assertion that the season has been one from which "we have gained a lot".

The champions of 1994-95 have never been higher than sixth in 1995-96, where they stood at three o'clock on Saturday, which is a poor show even set apart from the unspeakable embarrassment of their Champions' League campaign.

And yet they might still finish with something. The third Uefa Cup place rests between four clubs and although Arsenal, with two games at home to come, are now favourites, they can still be pipped by Blackburn, Tottenham or Everton.

Had Blackburn won they would have been in pole position and they probably felt they deserved to, having controlled substantial phases. Inevitably, they blamed the referee, Keith Cooper, for what seemed a harsh penalty against Hendry, for throwing Arsenal a lifeline.

But Rovers would be wrong to let it obscure proper assessment. Billy McKinlay and Tim Sherwood (and, later, the returning Lars Bohinen) were impressive in midfield and Jason Wilcox frequently embarrassed Lee Dixon on the left wing.

Goals: Gallacher (12) 1-0; Wright pen (75) 1-1.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Marker, Hendry, Kenna; Ripley (Bohinen, 63), Sherwood, McKinlay, Wilcox; Fenton (Warhurst, 88), Gallacher. Substitute not used: Croft.

Arsenal (5-1-2-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Linighan (Shaw, 63), Morrow (Rose, 45), Winterburn; Platt; Parlour, Bergkamp; Merson, Wright (Hartson, 76).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

Bookings: Blackburn McKinlay, Flowers. Arsenal Keown. Sending-off: McKinlay.

Attendance: 29,834.

Man of the match: Sherwood.