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S-PLATT GOES THE TITLE!; Angry Gunners in Sutton 'cheat' storm: Arsenal 1 Blackburn 1.

Furious Arsenal players branded Chris Sutton a cheat as their title hopes were dealt a hammer blow by a last-gasp Rovers equaliser.

The Gunners angrily claimed Blackburn striker Sutton broke an unwritten law by refusing to let Arsenal have the ball back following an injury to Stephen Hughes.

Arsenal midfield man Patrick Vieira kicked the ball out to allow Hughes to get treatment.

But when it was thrown back, Sutton battled Nigel Winterburn for it and forced a corner that brought the equaliser from Garry Flitcroft.

Even his own boss, Tony Parkes, condemned Sutton, saying: "It was against the spirit of the game and he should not have done it. But I'm glad he did, because it earned us a valuable point!

"Chris can be a bit busy at times and in his defence I honestly believe he had forgotten what was going on.

"Martin Keown had a right go at me as he went up the tunnel at the end. But as I was not playing I don't see what I could have done about it."

The Arsenal players marched furiously towards Sutton at the end, pointing angrily at him in menacing scenes.

And firebrand Ian Wright charged towards referee Mike Riley before being bustled away by physio Gary Lewin.

The incident was the final flashpoint in an ugly, bad-tempered game that brought nine bookings and blew a hole not only in Arsenal's title chances but also their hopes of making the European Cup next season.

Victory would have taken them two points clear of Liverpool. But Arsenal and the Merseysiders are now locked together on 64 points with everything to play for in a sizzling finish to the season.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger blamed his own players as much as Sutton for the equaliser.

"The English sense of fair play is known all over the world. But it does not seem to function here any more," he said.

"That's a great pity, because without fair play and sportsmanship you have nothing. Where will we be without it?

"I am not responsible for Blackburn's fair play. But I am responsible for the actions of my own players.

"And they should have stopped that goal. The corner was mis-hit in the first place and when Flitcroft blasted in his shot no one was marking him.

"It's no good whingeing about this sort of thing, It won't change anything. We've got to be big enough to get over it and get on with the job."

Arsenal seemed home and dry as they sat on the lead given them by David Platt in the 20th minute.

Platt grabbed his third goal in three games by planting the ball into an empty net after a header from Keown had rebounded from a post.

Wright, one of the game's many booked players, passed up two fine chances to wrap it all up for the Gunners.

But the Platt goal still seemed enough to see them home - until that flashing half-volley from Flitcroft, deep in injury time, dealt a savage blow. ARSENAL.- Seaman 7; Dixon 6, Winterburn 7, VIEIRA 8, Bould 7, Adams 7, Platt 7, Wright 6, Bergkamp 7, Keown 7, Hughes 7. BLACKBURN.- Flowers 7; Kenna 6 (Pederson), Sherwood 7, Hendry 8, Gallacher 6, Sutton 6, Wilcox 6, McKinlay 6, Berg 7, Flitcroft 6, Pearce 6.

TOP OF PREMIER

P W D L F A Pts

Man Utd 34 20 9 5 69 39 69

Arsenal 35 18 10 7 58 29 64

Liverpool 35 18 10 7 58 33 64

TO PLAY

MAN UTD: May 3 Leicester, May 6 BORO, May 8 NEWCASTLE, May 11 WEST HAM.

ARSENAL: Apr 21 Coventry, May 3 NEWCASTLE, May 11 Derby.

LIVERPOOL: May 3 SPURS, May 6 Wimbledon, May 11 Sheff Wed.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Steggles, Jack
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 20, 1997
Words:626
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