Milosevic happy in the long run

Blackburn Rovers 1 Shearer 52 Aston Villa 1 Milosevic 33 At tendance: 27,084
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The Independent Online
THREE points would have come in handy for Blackburn Rovers yesterday, with Newcastle, Leeds and Liverpool all losing. But, despite recovering strongly after Savo Milosevic had scored a triumphant first goal for Aston Villa, they must begin their campaign in the Champions League against Spartak Moscow at Ewood Park on Wednesday without a win since the opening day of the season.

Both teams got what they deserved, in an evenly fought contest that kept threatening to turn into something memorable but never quite managed to. Blackburn's dependency on Alan Shearer, on a day when their manager Ray Harford saw fit to drop Chris Sutton, looked as great as ever, while a lot of purposeful and fluent approach play by Villa went unmatched by anything they could produce in the penalty area.

For one man, however, the match was an unalloyed success. Milosevic, the 22-year-old Serbian striker, joined Villa during the close-season at a cost of pounds 3.5m and would have attracted more attention had not Dennis Bergkamp, Ruud Gullit and David Ginola accompanied him into the English game. But at Villa Park they noticed him all right, and his early performances started to make Brian Little's decision to buy a player he had seen only on video look somewhat ill-advised.

Big, and at times ungainly, Milosevic clearly found it hard to adjust to the pace of the Premiership, and the sight of him wondering what to do while the ball got taken away from him had became a familiar one. He badly needed a goal, and yesterday, at last, it arrived in spectacular fashion.

With the exception of a moment in the fifth minute when Shearer held off Paul McGrath before forcing Mark Bosnich into a diving parry, Villa had much the better of the opening half-hour. Milosevic, while nominally a partner up front alongside Dwight Yorke, was taking up deeper-lying positions in which he produced one lovely back- heel for Andy Townsend but otherwise merely lumbered.

No such accusation could be levelled at him when, after 33 minutes, a cross came over from the left and found Milosevic moving up to threaten on the edge of the Blackburn area. Gathering the ball with another of the deft touches that defy his physique, he shuffled to his left and, from 20 yards, thumped an angled left-foot shot low into the far corner.

It was a great moment for Milosevic, who ran the length of the field to share his joy with the huge band of travelling Villa supporters, and it needed Bosnich to run out at his goal to point out to him that Blackburn had already kicked off again.

While Sutton had to make do with a place on the substitutes' bench next to such illustrious names as Lee Makel and Shay Given, Mike Newell was given the job of partnering Shearer. To begin with he struggled, but after 36 minutes he created Blackburn's best chance of the half when he got to the left byline and pulled the ball back to Shearer, who was standing on the penalty spot. Shearer should have scored, but Bosnich got down to his shot without much difficulty.

It was from a much less advantageous position that Shearer struck Blackburn's equaliser seven minutes into the second half. Stuart Ripley's cross from the right should have been cleared, but as Villa hesitated Shearer moved straight into the heart of enemy territory, took control of the situation and hit a shot of such wonderful accuracy - straight into the top corner - that this time Bosnich simply stood and watched it flash by. Blackburn more than matched Villa from then on, but the old intensity was missing from their play.

Harford said afterwards: "Lack of confidence is an illness. Hopefully half-time was the lowest we could have got. But you never know."

Little referred to the midweek trip Milosevic had made home to Serbia and an exhibition match in which he had played to raise money for his compatriot refugees. "It meant a lot to him," Little said. "He came back looking a bit brighter. I'm very pleased for him."