Watford 1 Blackburn Rovers 2
The bare result here last night might imply that Blackburn have finally emerged from their title-induced hangover but, while the shakes are a little less violent, the headache remains. True, it took character to fight back after conceding a horrible goal just before the break but, as long as Rovers lack the quality to match their spirit, Watford may be as close to Wembley as they will get this season.
After 10 minutes the Tannoy asked supporters still queuing outside the North Stand to trudge round to the south instead, but at the time it might have been kinder to advise them to forget it and go home. By then, it was already apparent that the wind and rain, combined with a complete absence of imagination on both sides, would make it a very long 90 minutes.
It was 19 minutes before either goal faced a serious threat and another three before a keeper was forced into action, Tim Flowers diving to his left to gather Tommy Mooney's strike from outside the area.
When a supporter staged a one-man pitch invasion shortly before half- time, it seemed clear that he had seen enough and decided to find the quickest way to be thrown out. Unfortunately for him, two minutes later, Ian Pearce, previously untroubled at the heart of Blackburn's defence, suffered an astonishing lack of concentration. Almost as if mistaking Kevin Phillips for Colin Hendry, Pearce rolled a slow, square ball across the edge of the box, and the only danger as Phillips advanced and carefully placed the ball past Flowers' right hand was that a fit of the giggles might spoil his aim.
Watford re-emerged from the dressing-room, momentarily at least, a side transformed. In the 49th minute three excellent chances came and went.Flowers was at full stretch to palm over Keith Millen's header, and from the corner Jeff Kenna was well placed to clear the same player's shot off the line. Moments later, a downward header from Jamie Moralee was scrambled against the post and away by Flowers.
It was a sequence which the home side would soon regret. Ripley's cross- cum-shot against the bar - a trick he later repeated - was a belated sign of intent from the League champions, and after 59 minutes the winger's corner found its way off Hendry's head to Alan Shearer, unmarked on the left corner of the area. His shot might just have missed the far post, but a ricochet off Darren Bazeley made the argument academic.
As the pattern returned to its previous tedium, Blackburn were now the more likely winners. A header from Newell brought a marvellous reflex save from Kevin Miller and as David Batty, following up, seemed certain to score, Miller was at his feet to deny him. But then, after 79 minutes, Jeff Kenna turned Colin Foster down the left and his cross gave Newell an easy header to secure the victory.
Watford (4-4-2): Miller; Bazeley, Millen, Foster, Holdsworth; Mooney, Ramage, Palmer, Lavin; Moralee, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Page, Pitcher, Cherry (gk).
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Hendry, Pearce, Kenna; Sherwood, Batty, Warhurst, Ripley; Newell, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Holmes, Sutton, Mimms (gk).
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).
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