Shearer to the rescue

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The Independent Online
West Ham United 1

Dowie 26

Blackburn Rovers 1

Shearer 89

Attendance: 21,776

THE difficulty for Blackburn now is probably one of self-belief. What worked so effectively to take them to their title last season has proved inadequate in European competition. This, in turn, may just have persuaded them that it may no longer be great shakes in the Premiership either. Their strength has traditionally been to let the opposition know of their presence, and get the ball, if at all possible, to Alan Shearer. West Ham were now about to fall for this.

Pedestrian in movement they may be, but while the days of the Academy are long gone, they can still pass a ball or two. Before the proceedings could get under way there was a little ceremony to be completed. The public address man asked the Rovers fans to show their appreciation to the Hammers for services rendered on the final day of last season, when they prevented Manchester United from winning the championship. The visiting end duly applauded.

West Ham quickly demonstrated that they are not simply a side of spirit. They passed much more neatly in midfield than Blackburn, and developed some deceptively easy movements.

One of these might have led to a goal in the eighth minute, when Ian Bishop's loping, tempting ball seemed to be heading forward from the edge of the box, for Ian Dowie's advancing boot, only to be intercepted by Henning Berg.

The direct Blackburn style, however, is not always easy to contain, and it took an excellent save from Ludek Miklosko to keep out Stuart Ripley's header in the 22nd minute. Four minutes later West Ham took the lead. Bishop outsmarted Jeff Kenna, and his cross to the far post was this time met perfectly by Dowie, who headed his first goal since returning to the club.

Shearer, of all people, missed a gilt-edged opportunity to equalise, when put clear by Colin Hendry's long ball. Miklosko's well-judged sliding tackle on the edge of the area could not quite excuse the miss.

All that was remotely constructive continued to flow from West Ham after the break, with the champions looking, if anything, in slightly more disarray. Dowie might have increased the lead within a minute of the resumption, but Tim Flowers was alert enough to race from his line to parry his shot from barely three yards out.

A touch of panicky freneticism entered the champions' play, with David Batty booked for a foul - rather needlessly - and the long pass still more in evidence.

Recent signing Billy McKinlay was introduced in place of the disappointing Tim Sherwood midway through the half, but it was still Bishop and Moncur who looked in control of proceedings.

So it continued, until the final minute. With the Rovers' build-up more studied than usual, West Ham's defence found itself too deep. Lars Bohinen's cross arived at Shearer, and as Miklosko came too far, the striker secured a point his side barely deserved. With seconds remaining at Upton Park yesterday, Blackburn Rovers gained their first away point of the season. Needless to say, Alan Shearer scored their equalising goal, but it was one which rarely looked like arriving and, on the balance of play, was far from merited.