Shearer bliss

Blackburn Rovers 4 (Shearer 3, 17, 64 pen, Newell 32) West Ham United 2 (Dicks 74 pen, Slater 86) Attendance: 26,638

EWOOD Park continues to provide a comforting haven for the troubled champions, who had not been able to do much right this season but are now destroying opponents habitually on their own turf. This was only Blackburn's second win in eight matches in league and cups but their fifth impressive victory off the reel at home in the Premiership.

West Ham, who began the day three places above their hosts in the table after losing just one game in nine, conceded as many goals as they had in their previous seven away matches. They rallied impressively in the second half, scoring twice in the last 16 minutes from several chances, but had lost the argument in the opening half-hour.

During that period Blackburn, having thrashed Nottingham Forest 7-0 at Ewood two weeks ago, went three up. They reaped full reward for another startling demonstration of slick, assertive, attacking play capped by brilliant finishing from Alan Shearer and Mike Newell.

Thanks to a second-half penalty, conceded against him by Julian Dicks, Shearer went on to complete his seventh hat-trick in a Blackburn shirt and his second against West Ham in consecutive seasons. In three-and-a- half years as Jack Walker's most prized asset, it is a remarkable achievement, particularly when one remembers his nine-month absence through injury. But doing the remarkable has, for him, become routine.

His opening goals, after three minutes and 15, were the works of a master of his craft but, for Shearer, all in a day's work. Strength and balance characterised the first, enabling him to withstand a challenge from Marc Rieper and shoot with such power and accuracy from the edge of the penalty area that Ludek Miklosko, in West Ham's goal, was powerless to save.

Alertness was the hallmark of his second, lashed in from six yards after Newell had headed on Jeff Kenna's long throw. After those impressive goals it was easy to undervalue Newell's stunning header for the third, created by a cross from the right by Stuart Ripley, who was influential throughout. Having gone 4-0 down, West Ham responded with character. Apart from a penalty put away by Dicks and a fine strike against his former club by their substitute, Robbie Slater, they forced Tim Flowers to make several saves.

"We came back with a lot of commitment in the end," their manager, Harry Redknapp, said. "But Shearer is the best, different class. We gave him room today but he's everything a centre-forward should be."

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