Spurs felled by Shearer's arrow of desire

Football: Blackburn Rovers 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1
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The Independent Online
PHIL SHAW

Blackburn Rovers 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1

England's green and pleasant land, invoked by "Jerusalem" blaring out in a wonderfully kitsch tribute to Alan Shearer's 100th Premiership goal, may have been dusted in white. Yet events at Ewood Park stoked the braziers of anticipation of sultry days and steamy nights in next summer's European Championship finals.

Terry Venables did not venture out of the capital, which, if unsurprising on a day when it was supposed to be grim up north, was a shame. The England coach could have compared Shearer with Tottenham's Teddy Sheringham, his likely attacking foil or even potential rival, as well as seeing Blackburn's centurion in opposition to the man who could well mark him when Scotland go to Wembley on 15 June.

Colin Calderwood was probably left wondering, like myriad defenders before him, exactly how Shearer had managed his landmark moment. The Scot, in tandem with Gary Mabbutt, worked assiduously to subdue the division's leading marksman, only to be reminded by a dipping, curling shot on the turn from 22 yards that Shearer, in club football at least, is a scorer of great goals as well as a great goalscorer.

That made 19 in the League this season, out of the champions' 33, and as the Blackburn manager, Ray Harford, noted with incredulity: "He's still only 25." Gerry Francis, seething over the referee's refusal to award injury-stricken but endlessly enterprising Spurs a penalty that might have preserved their unbeaten away record, had to admit: "If he was my player, I'd be raving about it."

At international level, it is a different story, Shearer failing to mark any of his last 10 caps with a goal. Anyone else suffering such a sequence would have been left out by now but, unusually for a serial finisher, his all-round game more than merits a place. His cross-field passing here was that of a playmaker manque.

What he does not do as cleverly as Sheringham is act as the central link with players breaking from midfield. As long as Venables persists with his "Christmas tree", and its split-striker formation, he may have more chance of obtaining the required effect from the Spurs man. Shearer's habit of running wide in pursuit of long balls, an asset in the Blackburn context, can be a handicap in a shorter build-up.

Whether Sheringham's capacity to "float" would be wasted as a lone spearhead, or whether indeed he has the presence and power to perform the role, is open to question. He has the nous: time and again he drifted into dangerous positions, most notably when he volleyed his 13th Premiership goal of the campaign to halve the deficit created by Nicky Marker's header and Shearer's bolt from the blue and white.

More was the pity Colin Hendry's suspension denied Ewood's first 30,000 gate this season a preview of another Anglo-Scottish duel. If Calderwood's heated reaction to an alleged dive by Shearer is anything to go by, it seems that he too cannot wait for the gloves to come off. "It was probably because I scored," the Englishman shrugged later. "I must have been doing something right for him to moan at me."

According to Shearer, he can not afford to let his thoughts stray to Euro '96. "There's a lot of football to be played between now and then," he said with a single-mindedness bordering on dourness, although Harford was prepared to suggest that the competition's format could trick his talisman into scoring for England.

"It might be that Alan is better in tournaments," he said, "because the games come in quick succession and there's a chance to work with people every day."

Perhaps, though, he needs only to hear a certain song to find the inspiration. Not "Jerusalem" - even if his arrow of desire did light the clouded hills on Saturday - but the one with which the Spurs fans tempted providence minutes before he struck: "If Shearer plays for England, so can I..."

Goals: Marker (31) 1-0; Shearer (41) 2-0; Sheringham (54) 2-1.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Marker, Coleman, Kenna; Ripley, Batty, Bohinen, Holmes; Shearer, Newell (Warhurst, 77; McKinlay, 88). Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Austin, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Edinburgh; Dumitrescu, Campbell, Nethercott, Rosenthal; Sheringham, Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Caskey, Slade, Day (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Blackburn: Newell, Coleman. Tottenham: Calderwood, Campbell.

Man of the match: Sheringham.

Attendance: 30,004.

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