Blackburn 1 Blues 1

Last updated : 20 January 2003 By Richard Barker
Stern John's equaliser seven minutes from time cancelled out Damien Duff's early strike, and gave Blues a deserved draw with a Blackburn side reduced to ten men after half an hour due to Andy Todd's annual display of petulance.

Steve Bruce - not averse to the odd surprise in his team line-up - recalled Ian Bennett to the starting eleven for his Premiership debut at the expense of the perhaps unlucky Nico Vaesen. Jamie Clapham dropped to left back, allowing Jeff Kenna to move back to right back against his former club, with Ferdinand Coly dropping to the bench. In midfield, Aliou Cisse returned for Stephen Clemence (who was not even on the bench) whilst Stan Lazaridis was recalled to the left flank to hopefully supply the ammunition for Christophe Dugarry and Clinton Morrison up front.

Blues started the game well, with Dugarry testing Brad Friedel within the first minute following some excellent chest control from a Kenna cross, and a snap-shot on the turn. However, Rovers began to settle, with the likes of Duff and David Thompson beginning to get a grip on the game and let their influence grow - a Duff shot deflected wide, and Bennett saved well from Andy Cole.

It was Irish winger Duff who put the home side ahead on 19 minutes. Thompson played a neat ball into the feet of Dwight Yorke whose low cross eluded everyone, and following the odd ricochet, Duff was on hand to hit the ball home with his right foot.

The real turning point of the game, however, was on the half hour mark, when Todd was dismissed by referee Clive Wilkes. Todd - son of former Blues defender Colin Todd - who has had his disciplinary problems in the past (most notably punching Charlton's Dean Kiely in the face and breaking his nose... whilst Todd played for Charlton , and breaking the jaw of assistant manager Phil Brown whilst at Bolton) kicked out at Dugarry after the ball had gone. The Rovers side had become increasingly frustrated with Dugarry, who was proving to simply be too good for them - as well as being too good for his Blues team-mates - and their frustration boiled over through Todd. Following a post-incident melee, Wilkes brandished the red card, and Blues were up against ten men for an hour.

Anyone who saw Blues play Fulham at home this season will remember that, basically, on that day Blues were utterly clueless at how to break down a side that's prepared to sit back and settle for what they've got. Unfortunately, Blackburn were now 1-0 up, and quite happy to do the same. Nils-Luc Johannson came on for Yorke, and the home side set up the two banks of four, with Cole alone upfront. However, Blues were unable to really create any opportunities prior to the interval, and went in a goal down, but no doubt confident of a result.

Blues continued to struggle to break down the Rovers defence in the second half, and early on, it was Thompson who went closest with a right foot volley over the bar. Blues continued to plug away though, with Dugarry heading just wide, and Cisse wasting an excellent chance. Bruce really threw caution to the wind after a while, bringing on Jovan Kirovski and Stern John - to add to first half substitute Paul Devlin (who replaced the injured Steve Vickers) for Michael Johnson and Kenna. Bold tactics indeed, when you consider that there was now not a single defender left in the Blues side.

Blues pressure was beginning to mount, with the magnificent Dugarry hitting the post with a header, and the impressive Kirvoski forcing Friedel into a world-class save following more good work from Dugarry. However, on 83 minutes, all the hard work paid off. Lazaridis - who at times frustrated, but at others proved a valuable asset - drifted in a sublime cross, which John rose majestically to head home.

Just a minute later, John then flashed a first-time volley over the bar from 15 yards out. Once Blues had equalised though, they began to defend like a team that had no defenders on the pitch... with Blackburn pressing for a winner themselves, especially Duff who missed two or three excellent chances - one of which was saved bravely by Bennett at the death.

In the end, it was a point that Blues would have certainly settled for before the game, and one which they deserved after 90 minutes and after creating many chances. Dugarry was sensational again, and even in the last 10 minutes when he was clearly exhausted, took up a deep midfield role and continued to supply superb passes to Lazaridis in particular. One worrying aspect, however, is the form of Morrison who was, quite simply, appalling. Stern John did more in 20 minutes than Morrison has in 2 months. All in all though, a decent days work, and a nice two week break now to get the likes of Cunningham and Purse fit, and head to the Reebok Stadium for a key game in high spirits.

Bennett - Poor first half, better second half
Kenna - Awful distribution, and poor in general
Clapham - Grew into the game following uncertain start
Johnson, M - Coped admirable with Yorke and Cole
Vickers - Did well until injury
Johnson, D - Worked hard for team, especially as a defender late on
Lazaridis - At times frustrating, at others influential
Cisse - Put himself about in midfield, then in defence, then due to injury, up front
Savage - Adapted well to various roles thrust upon him, like captain and centre back at the end
Morrison - Awful
Dugarry - Incredible, Blackburn couldn't cope

Devlin - Did ok
Kirovski - Excellent impact
John - Made a difference and got the goal