Blackburn Rovers 0 Wimbledon 0 - Peter White's big match verdict

FEW people left Ewood on Saturday with a sense of satisfaction - managers, players and particularly spectators were probably checking their ticket stubs to see if there was a refund in the event of the entertainment failing to materialise.

If it did turn up, then unfortunately along with many others, I missed it.

For the vast majority must have headed straight for home and a quiet night in front of the fire with a bottle of headache tablets.

Realistically, it always promised to be a dour struggle and the fact that dour sometimes meant dire was no real surprise, especially in view of the makeshift team fielded by Blackburn Rovers.

But one man at least was due a celebratory drink.

John Filan, eight months to the day since he was carried off injured and in agony, played first team football again and - was it mere co-incidence? - helped a patchwork Rovers team to claim their first clean sheet since the end of January.

The big Aussie had an eventful yet, in some respects, uneventful afternoon.

He was used as a punch bag by Wimbledon in the first half, with the referee astonishingly ignoring a string of blatant fouls.

But he grew in confidence and made a breath-taking save from the one genuine on-target effort Wimbledon managed - only to see a linesman's flag go up for offside.

Significantly, an offside flag also ruled out a potential second-half winner from Tim Sherwood.

Controversy was never far from the surface and you wouldn't have trusted these linesmen with seeing an old lady across the road. In contrast to many of the players who participated in an awful game and the fans who had to tolerate a scrappy, shapeless, uninspired affair, however, Filan had reason to smile.

"It's great to be back and I'll take the clean sheet every time," beamed the Aussie.

Rovers boss Roy Hodgson, relieved to a degree with a point after the 1998 freefall by his team, which has been like doing a bungee jump without the bungee, was delighted to see the keeper return.

"He did well. He didn't make many errors. He dropped a couple of balls but we were, I suppose, naively awaiting a free kick which didn't come," said the manager.

"But apart from that, I thought he dealt very confidently with what he had to do.

"Wimbledon are a very physical side and when two players are allowed to jump at the goalkeeper, the referee either gives a free kick or he doesn't.

"He decided not to and that makes it difficult.

"You always wonder whether Peter Schmeichel would have accepted what John Filan had to accept in the first half.

"And whether the Manchester United crowd would have allowed the referee out of the ground alive if he had allowed the Wimbledon forwards to do what they did to John Filan.

"But we're Blackburn Rovers and we maybe have to accept those things."

Hodgson also became rather agitated - with just cause - some 15 minutes from time when he dashed from the bench, waving his arms like a traffic cop on speed, to ask the referee just what the linesmen were doing. His frustration was understandable. For, if the players were struggling to get their act together, the officials were worse.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that linesmen simply do not understand, or cannot cope with, the changes in the offside ruling.

So, what about the actual football you might ask. Well that can be summed up fairly succinctly.

Rovers, without half their regulars, looked tentative and hesitant, while Wimbledon did what they are good at, breaking up the game, working hard to close down space and winning corners, free kicks and throws near the opposition box.

They caused several moments of panic and uncertainty among Rovers' defence yet failed to get a decent strike on goal, apart from the Carl Cort header which was superbly saved and, in any case, would have been ruled out.

In contrast, Rovers did get in a few decent attempts and could have won it for all their failings.

Neil Sullivan dominated on crosses and made three fine saves to keep them at bay.

He stopped efforts from Kevin Gallacher and Chris Sutton early on and made his best save from Stuart Ripley six minutes from half time.

Three minutes before the end, he plucked a header from the hard-working Sutton out of the air.

The game's best effort, in fact, didn't trouble either keeper, but it was desperately close.

Sherwood, the best midfield man on view, struck a glorious drive from around 25 yards inches past a post midway through the second half.

Shortly afterwards, he "scored" but it was ruled out. Considering their absentees, it was somewhat understandable Rovers lacked cohesion against the kind of opponents who made life as difficult as usual.

But there was a disappointing lack of urgency and fire at times. Rovers, at their best when they press opponents and hunt feverishly for the ball, were too often caught reacting to situations rather than making things happen.

That left them living on their nerves. Fortunately, Wimbledon are abysmal at one aspect of the game - finishing.

The positive points of the day saw Patrick Valery have a good game at left back. Marlon Broomes improve after a nervous start, Sherwood doing his best to knit things together and Sutton a constant thorn in the Dons side. But the striker was forced to do too much work outside the danger areas.

Rovers tried to be positive by sending on another striker but Martin Dahlin quickly merged into the general mediocrity. Really, there wasn't too much else to talk about. It was a relief when the final whistle went.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.