Rovers all burned out

Liverpool 3 Redknapp 12, Fowler 22, Collymore 29 Blackburn Rovers 0 Attendance: 39,502
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The Independent Online
AT this rate, even Alan Shearer might fancy a spell in the backroom. In the face of a Liverpool performance of authority and style, Blackburn Rovers lurched into new depths of disarray yesterday when in only their sixth Premiership match of the season, they suffered their fourth and most telling defeat.

Three goals adrift within half an hour - one of them a majestic effort by Stan Collymore - they were left to reflect on an afternoon when they also had three men booked and a fourth sent off and at times were utterly outplayed.

It was far too early to expect the staff changes that Blackburn announced on Friday to transform the teams. But in removing himself from coaching duties and giving his new No 2, Derek Fazack- erley, a more hands-on role, the manager, Ray Harford, might have hoped for some signs of improvement. Instead it got worse - so bad that in the second half he was even presented with the amazing sight of John Barnes nipping in to dispossess Shearer.

"We hope this is the bottom of the barrel," Harford said. "Now it's all about lifting people and getting back to what we're good at. The majority of it is confidence." Morale, Harford said, was "very low".

Their limitations exposed against Spartak Moscow in the Champions' League in mid-week, Blackburn found the same thing happening again. In particular, Liverpool's first-half performance - "sensational" was how their manager Roy Evans described it - stood comparison with anything achieved by previous generations at Anfield. That they fell away was understandable at the end of a week in which they made a 5,000-mile round trip to southern Russia in the Uefa Cup.

As Blackburn fretted over whether to play it long or short, hit the ball ahead of Alan Shearer or behind him, and generally succumbed to the forces of self-doubt, Liverpool remained true to the principles of simple passing and movement.

This was what lay behind their subjugation of Blackburn in an opening spell of beautifully composed but effective football. With their central defensive trio of Mark Wright, Neil Ruddock and Phil Babb making light of the threat of Shearer and Mike Newell (Chris Sutton was a substitute for the third match running, although he came on for the second half), Liverpool pushed Rob Jones and Steve Harkness forward to give them control of midfield.

Little was wasted as Barnes, Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman worked the ball around, using variations of pace and angle which reduced Blackburn to a mixture of the crude and the cumbersome in their attempts to live with this higher form of life.

In giving his team a 13th-minute lead, Redknapp picked up where he had left off with his strike against Spartak Vladikavkaz four days earlier. From a corner on the left, taken quickly and short, he scored with a shot that was swerving beyond Tim Flowers from the moment it left the outside of his boot.

For the second goal, after 22 minutes, Jones crossed from the right for Robbie Fowler to head in, before Collymore upstaged all that had gone before with a 29th-minute goal similar to the one with which he marked his Liverpool debut against Sheffield Wednesday, only on a bigger scale. Ignoring some shirt-pulling by Graeme Le Saux to start a move down the left, he ended it by caressing a left-foot shot into the far corner from 30 yards.

In the second half, Liverpool mostly played keep-ball, David James made one outstanding save from a Tim Sherwood header and Henning Berg was dismissed for a second bookable offence when he tripped Redknapp - though after a protest from Harford the referee will be looking on video at the first booking, an apparent elbow on Harkness. And Jason McAteer began his Anfield career with an eight-minute appearance as substitute. But this was a match about the big picture, not the details. You are more likely to find it hanging on Liverpool's wall than Blackburn's.

Harford crisis, page 30