Sutton the late achiever

FOOTBALL
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The Independent Online
Blackburn are still the only Premiership club with no No 9 and no manager. In Chris Sutton, however, they possess a No 16 of first-class striking stock. That much was clear at Ewood Park yesterday when English football's most expensive player of three years ago struck a late winner that maintained the Rovers revival under Tony Parkes' caretakership.

Sutton's 86th-minute goal crowned a fine display by Alan Shearer's former partner and salvaged what looked like a drawn, if not lost, cause. But it was cruel luck for Dave Beasant, who performed heroics in the Southampton goal after Chris Woods was stretchered from the field after 16 minutes and taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg. The veteran keeper and his colleagues deserved reward for their efforts in fighting from behind but ended with no points and just 10 men on the pitch after Ulrich van Gobbel was sent off nine minutes from time for a second bookable offence.

Southampton opened like the team thrashed 7-1 at Everton a fortnight ago rather than the one that hit Manchester United for six at The Dell a month ago. Four chances came Blackburn's way before they even got into their stride, with two sweeping moves either side of the 10th minute.

Chris Sutton sparked the first, performing the centre-forward's basic art of "holding up" the ball before feeding Tim Sherwood, whose crossfield pass from the right was turned into the area by Jason Wilcox. Garry Flitcroft might have applied a suitable finish had he not been off balance and under pressure while executing his shot. Graeme Le Saux's ball up the left a minute later was a gilt-edged invitation to Kevin Gallacher but the Scot's shot from the left edge of the area was blocked by Woods.

Both passages illustrated the quality of Blackburn's polished play. Southampton, by contrast, were so ragged they rarely strung together more than two or three passes. They could, nevertheless, have struck first. Tim Flowers had to stretch to keep out a low drive by Egil Ostenstadt and the Norwegian striker ought to have shot past the Rovers keeper in the 20th minute after a miskick by Blackburn's other Saint, Jeff Kenna. Ostenstadt rounded Flowers but was denied by Colin Hendry's covering tackle.

The wonder was that it took Blackburn 27 minutes to take the lead. Sherwood was the scorer with a hook-shot on the edge of the six-yard box, but his first Premiership goal of the season was made by Sutton, with a subtly weighted downward header following a left-wing cross by Wilcox. It was a hard-earned advantage Rovers almost let slip in the closing stages of the first half. A reflex Flowers save was required to keep out a snap shot by Eyal Berkovic in injury time.

Rovers regained the initiative after the break. Three minutes into the second half Sutton raced on to a Flitcroft through-ball and it took a fine diving save by Beasant to keep out the Blackburn striker's shot.

Two poor finishes by Gallacher followed before Southampton took advantage of the ponderous defending that crept back into the home side's play. Hendry and Flowers both had chances to clear the danger before Ostenstadt, more by dogged persistence than sheer skill, poked in the equaliser from close range.

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