Rovers' belated relief

Nottingham Forest 1 Blackburn Rovers 5
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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest 1 Blackburn Rovers 5

Had Blackburn, formidable at home this season, travelled half as well they might be speaking of more than consolation at the close of a disappointing year.

After Saturday's surprising romp at the City Ground, the faded champions of 1995 might yet sneak into Europe, or so they must believe if their last three matches are to have meaning. It is, however, a somewhat tenuous ambition. And not least because their Premiership record shows just 14 points won away from Ewood Park against 40 at home. This was only their third away win.

"With us away from home the first goal seems to be very important," Ray Harford said afterwards, seeking to explain. "At the time we scored, Forest were probably on top. But a goal changes the thinking. We've gone in front in five away games this season and of those, we have won three and drawn two."

What Harford did not disclose is whether the defences faced on the four other occasions were as generous as Forest's. One suspects not. As a demonstration of classic errors, their performance had everything, from playing an offside trap almost on the half-way line (Alan Shearer, 1-0), failing to challenge an attacker lining up a 25-yard shot (Billy McKinlay, 2-0) to offering a free header (Jason Wilcox, 3-1). The fourth and fifth Blackburn goals hardly reflected well on them either, although by then they could at least blame the manager for replacing the right-back with an attacker.

When Ian Woan scored from a difficult angle four minutes before half- time, Forest seemed capable of recovery but the loss of a third goal before half-time made the task too great. "I could not believe we were 3-1 down, given the amount of possession we had enjoyed," their manager, Frank Clark, said. "It was astounding."

No less so, Clark felt, than the 7-0 scoreline when Forest visited Blackburn in November. "When the fifth goal went in," he reflected, "I reckon they'd had 13 shots on target in the two games and scored from 12." It is a knack he must wish his own players possessed. For all Jason Lee's honest aggression they were a powder-puff lot in front of goal.

So long as Shearer leads their line, one cannot imagine that charge being levelled at Blackburn. As well as scoring his 35th goal of the season, he selflessly set up three for his colleagues, including Graham Fenton, who popped up as substitute to add another to his momentous double against Newcastle, despite Harford's preference for Mike Newell in the starting line-up.

Goals: Shearer (28) 0-1; McKinlay (32) 0-2; Woan (41) 1-2; Wilcox (45) 1-3; Wilcox (69) 1-4; Fenton (84) 1-5.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle (McGregor, 68), Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Haland, Bart-Williams, Woan; Lee, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Howe, Phillips.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Hendry, Coleman, Kenna; Ripley, Sherwood, McKinlay, Wilcox; Newell (Fenton, 68), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Gallacher, Marker.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Blackburn: McKinlay, Kenna, Sherwood.

Man of the match: Shearer. Attendance: 25, 273.