Blackburn fail to take chances

 

A fixture that began with a power failure also ended with one. They put back the kick-off at Prenton Park on Saturday to 3.15 because of a fused turnstile; don't laugh, they get reasonable crowds at Tranmere Rovers these days.

By five o'clock Blackburn Rovers were rueing a similar fault in their make-up, laughably missing three sitters as they tried to enforce their superiority the longer the game went on. Electric they were not.

Graeme Souness, the Blackburn manager was relatively sanguine about it afterwards, but two points dropped now could have a telling effect next May. Blackburn currently sit eighth in the First Division, 14 points behind Fulham at the top and five points behind Birmingham City in the second automatic promotion spot. That should be Blackburn's aim, rather than the play-offs.

But it will not be easy, which is why winning at struggling clubs such as Tranmere is a necessity. In contrast to the alleged `race' in the Premiership, excluding Fulham who surely must come first or second, there are nine sides in with a promotion claim from the First Division. It could become 10 if Wimbledon get their act together.

Why they would want to leave an exciting division for a dull one is a worthwhile question to ask, but there is one major attraction of becoming the new Southampton or Coventry City, especially next season. That is when the new Premiership television contract kicks in. It guarantees each Premiership club a cheque of £16 million each season. For a club like Watford or Burnley that would cover a season's wages. And some.

Whether it would at Blackburn is another matter. As Tranmere's manager John Aldridge noted dryly, Blackburn's five substitutes cost more than £20 million. The large travelling support filling Prenton Park's Cowshed End on Saturday sang: "There's only one Jack Walker," for a reason.

The club's benefactor left a significant fund in his will for Souness and Souness used up £2.1 million of it last week in bringing Marcus Bent from promotion rivals Sheffield United. That looked a very canny bit of business in the second minute on Saturday when Bent met David Dunn's inswinging corner four yards out. Until Bent headed the ball over.

That was one highlight of a first half described by one reporter speaking to Souness afterwards as "pretty awful". Souness replied: "You're being very kind." The only other was that Damien Duff had set it up by executing a great pass to win the corner in the first place.

But Duff must be a frustrating force to manage. With Blackburn pressing on for a winner after Andy Parkinson had equalised Dunn's fine opener, Duff supplied the pass of the match to Matt Jansen, only for Jansen to waste the moment, and then three minutes from the end Duff set off on a willowy left wing meander past three defenders only to reach the byeline and thrash in a cross that eventually went for a throw-in on the opposite side of the pitch. Goliath would have had difficulty making contact.

But it is an indication of his longevity that we forget that Duff is just 21, and at least a measure of confidence appears to be returning to his game after his curious demotion when Brian Kidd was in control. He would have earned the title of Blackburn's most effective player on Saturday had it not been for the precocious midfielder Dunn.

Dunn will be 21 in three weeks and has already been capped at under-21 level by England. If he were a Liverpool player he would be in the senior squad. It's another example of the Premiership obsession.

Dunn's goal was a cracker and Tranmere, knocked out the League Cup in midweek, the competition they made the final of last season, were anxious and self-conscious. Maybe the same could be said of Jeff Kenna who returned to the Blackburn team because of Stig Inge Bjornebye's unavailability. It was Kenna's unfortunate slip on the hour that allowed Parkinson to run on and beat Brad Friedel from a narrow angle.

"We lost a goal through a bit of bad luck, Jeff slipping," said Souness. There was not a scintilla of anti-Irish sentiment in those words. But Kenna could be dropped for this Saturday. Who will be blamed for that?

Tranmere: Myhre, Roberts, Hill, Hinds, Hazell, Parkinson, Koumas (Yates 90), Flynn, Rideout (Henry 77), S. Taylor (Hume 69), Allison. Subs Not Used: Murphy, Gill. Booked: Koumas, Roberts. Goal: Parkinson 59.

Blackburn: Friedel, Curtis, Short, Berg, Kenna, Hignett (McAteer 67), Duff, Flitcroft, Dunn, Bent, M. Hughes (Jansen 62). Subs Not Used: Filan, Dailly, Ostenstad. Booked: Hignett, Flitcroft. Goal: Dunn 47. Att: 10,063.

Referee: D Crick (Worcester Park).