Shearer the first centurian

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 2

Marker 31, Shearer 41

Tottenham Hotspur 1

Sheringham 53

Attendance: 30,004

THIS has been an extraordinary year in the life of Blackburn Rovers, and yesterday they made sure they ended it on the right note, with their ninth win out of 11 home matches this season.

But just as winning the Premiership title in May gave no hint of what would follow when the new season got under way, so the 2-0 advantage they established before half-time turned out to be deceptive. From such a position Blackburn are usually impervious to any threat, but a quick-thinking and tenacious Tottenham side recovered so well that they could easily have come away with a draw.

Disappointed to see his team lose away from home for the first time this season, the Tottenham manager, Gerry Francis, injected a spiky note afterwards with fierce criticism of the referee over a second-half incident in which Jeff Kenna appeared to trip Chris Armstrong, but no penalty materialised.

A bitter, gusting wind inevitably meant that the quality of play was variable, and in the end what will make the match live in the memory was Blackburn's second goal, a routinely stupendous effort by Alan Shearer.

Much was made before the match of the fact that Shearer's next strike on target would be his 100th in the Premiership since it was launched in 1992. But it requires a fairly narrow view of history to ignore anything that took place in the days of the humble old First Division.

In spite of the progress up the table Blackburn have made on the back of their home form, Shearer afterwards discounted a title bid but said that they would be pushing for a place in Europe. That in itself would be something after the disastrous start his team made to the season, but Tottenham showed that Blackburn still have things to learn against a side who keep their passing tight.

With eight men injured, Tottenham were looking less to individuals than to the system of pass, move and tackle back that Francis has devised so effectively. Early on Ilie Dumitrescu, making a rare appearance, caused Blackburn some anxiety.

Blackburn, themselves missing Tim Sherwood and Colin Hendry through suspension, needed the partnership between Shearer and Mike Newell to get going, but it was the unlikely figure of Nicky Marker, playing in place of Hendry, who gave them the lead after half an hour. Stuart Ripley did well to reach a ball that appeared to be heading over the byline and, when he pulled it back, Marker managed to direct a header from near the edge of the area past Ian Walker.

Shearer had scored in all of Blackburn's Premiership matches at Ewood Park this season and this run was maintained four minutes before half- time. It was a goal out of nothing. Turning away from Gary Mabbutt 25 yards out, Shearer struck a shot beyond Walker that combined pace and curling trajectory.

Although the score at this stage slightly flattered Blackburn, they looked sure to cruise home. But the running off the ball of Armstrong and Teddy Sheringham had frequently stretched the Blackburn defence, and by stepping up the pace from the start of the second half Tottenham came right back into it. Their goal, in the 53rd minute, was a beauty. Armstrong, five yards in from the right touchline, swung a killer of a cross to the far post, cutting out four defenders and landing perfectly for Sheringham as he stole in undetected to finish with a low volley.

Flowers then made a point- blank stop from another Sheringham volley, while Armstrong, so talented yet still so far from the finished article, proved a real handful. There was a case for a penalty when he and Kenna came into contact in the area, prompting Francis's remarks.

"How the referee didn't give a penalty I don't know," he said. "We've got to get some professional referees in this country. We've got to have some accountability. It's our profession and like in Italy we should have referees for whom it is also their profession. Referees can make a mistake and go back to their normal jobs on a Monday morning. Sometimes managers can't."

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