Le Saux and Batty shame Blackburn

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The Independent Online

Spartak Moscow 3 Blackburn Rovers 0

Blackburn's woeful European Champions' League campaign

plumbed new depths yesterday when even the dismissal of Colin Hendry during this comprehensive defeat by Spartak was overshadowed by an extraordinary fight between two of Blackburn's England players, Graeme Le Saux and David Batty.

The two squared up to each other after just four minutes with the game still goalless. They clattered into one another as the ball ran into touch, traded insults, moved on to pushing and shoving and then Le Saux appeared to throw a left hook into Batty's throat. Tim Sherwood, the Blackburn captain, raced in to separate them as Le Saux appeared to be winding up for another blow.

Asked about the incident, Ray Harford, the Rovers manager, said: "I'm not going to talk about it." When pressed, he added: "You write it then. Write what you saw. If action needs to be taken it will be, and I do not think I really need to look at the evidence." Oleg Romantsev, the Spartak coach, said: "Before the match I told my players they will be playing against 11 guys ready to fight for each other for 90 minutes - not with each other."

Even when they were 40 yards apart Le Saux and Batty continued to shout at each other and the fractious nature of the Blackburn dressing-room was also indicated 23 minutes later when Hendry and Sherwood squared up to each other after the captain had lost possession and then committed a foul 25 yards out.

If the Batty-Le Saux incident established a new low in Rovers' European campaign, the game emphasised familiar failings with Spartak winning easily with goals from Dmitri Alenitchev, Yuri Nikiforov and Ramiz Mamedov. Le Saux could be held to blame for all three, and was substituted soon after the third, with what Harford said was a hand injury.

Alenitchev opened the Spartak account in the 28th minute. Ilia Tsimbalar, whom Harford has admitted is a possible pounds 2m target, slipped the ball forward to Alenitchev, who cut inside Le Saux and rolled the ball home through the legs of Henning Berg as Tim Flowers came off his line.

Spartak's all-round superiority was exemplified by Nikiforov's goal in the 47th minute. The cultured defender picked up the ball on the half- way line and galloped down the right before laying off to Alenitchev, sprinting for the return and drilling the ball home. Seven minutes later it was Mamedov who played the give-and-go with Alenitchev, and his finish was just as emphatic.

Fourteen minutes from time the humiliation was complete when Hendry received his marching orders. Substitute Valeri Kechinov played the ball forward, Tikhonov got goal-side of the Scottish centre-back and when Hendry brought him down heavily on the edge of the penalty area the Italian referee, Pierre Luigi Pairetto, had no hesitation in showing him the red card.

Spartak Moscow: Cherchesov; Khlestov, Nikiforov, Tsimbalar, Mamedov, Yuran (Piatnitsky, 73), Onopko, Kulkov, Schmarov (Kechinov, 64), Alenitchev, Tikhonov (Mukhamadiev, 87).

Blackburn Rovers: Flowers; Kenna, Le Saux (Holmes, 56), Sherwood, Hendry, Berg, Ripley (Sutton, 78), Batty, Shearer, Newell, Warhurst.

Referee: P Pairetto (Italy).

More reports, results, page 31