Red Rush rocks Rovers

A hat-trick from skipper Ian Rush sent Premiership leaders Blackburn crashing out of the Coca-Cola Cup as Liverpool claimed their berth in the quarter-finals.

Rush, making his 600th appearance for Anfield side, sent them through to the last eight with a first-half screamer which broke a seven-match scoring drought. He grabbed two more after the break to kill off Kenny Dalglish's side.

Liverpool 'keeper David James led a charmed life against the Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton double act until the very last minute when he was finally beaten by Sutton's header.

Blackburn, with six successive wins behind them, began in the manner of championship leaders, putting the Liverpool back-line under pressure right from the start.

Tim Sherwood thumped goalwards from 25 yards, James making an acrobatic tip over, and the 'keeper then raced from his line to block Shearer after a slip by Neil Ruddock.

In the 11th minute, however, James was merely a spectator when Sutton knocked a Graeme Le Saux cross back towards Stuart Ripley, whose looping header came back off the bar.

But it was the Blackburn defence that was breached against the run of play in the 19th minute.

There seemed little danger when Sherwood's mistake gave Robbie Fowler possession on the Liverpool left, but when the teenager moved the ball inside, Rush let fly, left-footed, from the edge of the box and the ball screamed past Tim Flowers' groping right hand.

A superb link-up between Rob Jones and Steve McManaman stretched Blackburn again and Flowers was relieved to fall on Fowler's far post header, but that was only the cue for Shearer and Sutton to go close again in the 32nd minute, James just managing to paw away Sutton's header.

Five minutes before the break Fowler, fed by Jamie Redknapp, tricked Henning Berg before forcing a fine low stop from Flowers, but Rovers were then denied by James once more, Paul Warhurst only prevented from scoring by the 'keeper's brave block after Shearer had slipped him through.

If anything, the passion and excitement increased after the interval. James saved from Shearer, Rob Jones was booked for bringing down Le Saux, and a drive by Michael Thomas, in for flu victim John Barnes, shaved the upright.

But 12 minutes after half-time, Rush made another telling contribution. John Scales headed forward from half-way, Jones, still up after a Liverpool attack, helped the ball on and Rush raced past Berg before firing under the advancing Flowers.

Colin Hendry denied McManaman a third goal twice in the space of a minute, first clearing off the line and then blocking a fierce strike, while Sutton was only inches away from reducing arrears from Ripley's cross.

Ruddock and Shearer were both booked for squaring up to each other after the striker was brought down, but Rush ended any possible doubt in the 73rd minute.

Stig Bjornebye crossed from deep on the Liverpool left, Le saux, looking for Flowers to claim the ball headed up into the air, and Rush poked home from close-range to complete hit hat-trick.

With all eyes on referee Roger Dilkes, Sutton headed his 17th of the season from Ripley's right-wing cross, but this was a night when the scoring exploits of Rush, not the 8.3 million pound strikeforce, took the headlines.

Liverpool goal-ace and skipper Rush said: "I've gone a few without a goal and to get a hat-trick on my 600th game is a great honour. The first goal certainly would not be far away from the best ever and that gave me confidence as well as the rest of the team because before that Blackburn had us under pressure. The goal settled us down. For the second I just had to hit the target and the third was an intercepted back-pass - that's more like one of my goals!"

For Liverpool manager Roy Evans the victory was sweet indeed. Of Rush he said in admiration: "What can you say, the guy's been brilliant. He's been through a lean spell for him but that was a fantastic hat-trick."

Evans added: "I thought our character today was magnificent. We had to defend quite a bit but when we got the ball down we were excellent as well. It was a brilliant team performance. There's not many times since I took over here that I've said I'm completely satisfied but I have to be tonight."

For Blackburn manager and former Liverpool idol Dalglish the defeat was the end of a six-match winning run and also the finish of a run of four successive victories over the Anfield side.

Dalglish said: "I think we played better than when we beat them 3-2 in the league and objectively we deserved more from the game than we got. We didn't do anything wrong but unfortunately we didn't have the luck but I'm going to take a positive attitude because we deserve to be positive after playing like that."

Of Rush, his former strike partner in his Anfield days, Dalglish added: "A lot of people have been saying he's a bad player this season but this will bring them to their senses. His record speaks for itself and always will do and if Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton are looking to somebody to emulate they couldn't find a better guy to copy."

Copyright - British Soccer Week

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