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The prodigal son triumphs on his return

Kenny Dalglish returned to Anfield in triumph to lift the Premiership title despite a last-day slip that left the Blackburn fans with their hearts in their mouths.

Blackburn knew that the championship was theirs if Manchester United failed to win at West Ham, but the championship race, which has twisted and turned so many times this season, looked to be making a dramatic diversion.

Everything had seemed rosy for Rovers when Alan Shearer's 37th goal of the season -- a record-equalling 34th Premiership strike -- gave them an interval lead.

Then John Barnes dragged Liverpool back on terms just after the hour and Jamie Redknapp's injury-time free-kick might have started a wake.

But as the dispirited Blackburn side returned to the centre circle, news of the result at Upton Park raced round the ground to spark dances of delight.

The ecstasy -- shared by the Liverpool fans' delight at their greatest rivals' misfortune -- was seen again at the final whistle as Rovers realised they had completed the task which seemed impossible when Dalglish took charge less than four years ago.

The Kop stood to applaud the new champions as they raised aloft the trophy that signalled the end of United's dreams of an unprecedented double double and placed Dalglish alongside Herbert Chapman and Brian Clough in winning the title with two different teams.

"Dalglish" was the refrain from all around the ground as Blackburn paraded in triumph. For the moment, £28million looked a price worth paying.

The celebratory mood was evident before the start, with both sets of fans cheering the rival team line-ups and the Kop even shouting their encouragement when David Batty won the ball in the first minute.

Liverpool, without a whole defence and with Ian Rush also missing, made the more measured start, but without really penetrating and Shearer might have done better than glance wide from Stuart Ripley's cross.

When Tim Sherwood was caught in possession in the 11th minute, Steve McManaman showed he was in the mood to provide a sting in the championship tail by powering to the dead-ball line,
but John Barnes spooned over.

Blackburn were breathing even more anxiously six minutes later. Mark Kennedy swung in a corner from the left, John Scales rose above the Blackburn defence to head down and Nigel Clough's shot on the turn from close range beat Tim Flowers, only for Sherwood to hack off the line.

But if the nerves were beginning to show, Shearer picked the perfect moment to calm them with a goal which summed up his incredible season.

Henning Berg played the ball forward from right back and Shearer's brilliant first-time lay-off put Ripley into space.

The winger carried the ball forward before pulling it back into the box just as Shearer arrived and his emphatic strike from 14 yards hit the bottom corner before David James could move.
Shearer's joy was shared even on the Kop, who stood to applaud -- and mock Alex Ferguson's men -- and he might have raised them from their seats again in the 23rd minute, but instead found the side-netting after being played in by Chris Sutton.

Rumours of a West Ham goal caused more exultation around the ground, repeated when news of Michael Hughes' strike was relayed through the Anfield bush telegraph, and that sparked a better period from Liverpool.

Flowers saved from Phil Babb and then produced a top-drawer stop to turn a Michael Thomas volley over the bar. But Sutton might have sealed the triumph after turning Scales inside out justbefore the break, James saving excellently.

The graft of Batty and Sherwood allowed Rovers to keep a grip on midfield at the start of the second period, although knowledge of Brian McClair's equaliser at Upton Park made for an edgy atmosphere.

Suddenly, in the 64th minute, the mood of the afternoon changed utterly. McManaman fed Kennedy in space on the left and when the Irishman swept in a low cross, Barnes caressed the ball into the same corner Shearer had found earlier.

Liverpool visibly grew in confidence and the championship that had seemed destined for Ewood since they went top in November was slipping from their grasp.

It should have gone further away from them 13 minutes from time. McManaman slipped inside to Robbie Fowler and as the striker shaped to shoot, Batty whipped his legs from under him. Referee David Elleray, just yards away, astonishingly saw nothing wrong, McManaman earning a yellow card for his angry protest, and three minutes later Sutton should have righted the listing Blackburn ship.

Phil Babb's dreadful backpass let in Shearer and although James blocked, the ball fell for Sutton, who stroked towards the empty net, but too weakly, giving Scales the chance to race back and clear.

Another effort by Sutton took a wicked deflection off Barnes before dropping inches outside the target. James missed the resulting corner, but grabbed Ian Pearce's shot and then even Shearer showed his fallibility by blasting over from eight yards.

Three minutes into injury time Redknapp's brilliant free-kick, after Hendry had fouled McManaman, left Rovers momentarily crestfallen.

But it did not matter. After 81 years the championship has a home at Ewood Park.

Copyright - Press Association

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