It was a story of super-subs and a super debut as Rovers marked the new season with a victory away at Middlesbrough. However, things were tainted by a worrying injury to star striker Benni McCarthy and a fracas at the end of the game.
Manager Mark Hughes refrained from using new signing Roque Santa Cruz from the off, preferring the partnership of best friends Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts. David Dunn was also included alongside Robbie Savage in the Rovers engine room, an indication that Hughes will put his faith in Rovers favourite son.
The game began at an open and adventurous pace as both sides sought to strike first. Both teams forced corners and Rovers in particular were looking hungry, however, it wasn`t long until the home side imposed their personality on the game, ultimately taking control.
‘Boro should have taken the lead when a mistake by Stephen Warnock allowed Yakubu to present debutant strike partner, Jeremie Aliadiere, with a glorious chance on a silver platter. Just six yards out and with the goal gaping the Frenchman contrived to miss, with the aid of a timely intervention from Robbie Savage, demonstrating his worth.
Rovers hit back with a goal, only to see it chalked off by the referee`s assistant`s flag. David Bentley played in Morten Gamst Pedersen but he had drifted offside and the flag went up as he squared for McCarthy to tap home.
That was to be the highlight of a derisory first half Rovers display as ‘Boro continued to press limiting Roves to some unimaginative long ball football. The home side duly took the lead on 31 minutes when England winger, Stuart Downing, whipped a free-kick through the Rovers wall and into the bottom corner from 30 yards. Suffice to say the poor structure of the wall riled Brad Friedel in Rovers goal and he let his team mates know this in a rant. It smacked of the unprepared and out-of-shape early season Rovers we have become accustomed to.
Hughes also vented his frustration at the poor showing and received a talking to from referee, Andre Marriner. The rest of the half was played out under the control of ‘Boro.
Rovers went in a goal down and looking flat. Unfortunately things didn`t appear to change much after the interval as Gareth Southgate`s charges continued to dominate and control the game at a leisurely pace.
However, there is usually a turning point in each game and controversy appears to be a pre-requisite of this. As the hour mark approached a ball played into the area by Bentley was aimed at McCarthy but he appeared to take a blow. After appearing to be dazed he proceeded to walk away only to collapse in a heap. Physiotherapists rushed to the scene to help Rovers` main striker and after a prolonged delay McCarthy was stretched off with his neck in a brace and with the aid of an oxygen mask. Concern was apparent on the faces of all the players.
However, there is always a silver lining, the optimists among us would have us believe, and there certainly was one today. McCarthy`s replacement was new boy Roque Santa Cruz and he took a mere two-and-a-half minutes to announce his arrival in Premiership football.
He rose majestically to superbly power home a header from Bentley`s smart cross. Rovers were on level terms and had their tails up.
The headlines were all set to lavish praise on Rovers` debutant striker, especially after he spun his marker before teeing up Bentley in a showcase of sublime technical ability and pace.
However, Rovers local lad Matt Derbyshire wasn`t about to let his place slip away from him without a fight and when he came on after 79 minutes for Roberts he sensationally scored the winner.
Picking the ball up in a wide position within seconds of his arrival he then bore down on goal before whipping a delightful curling strike beyond the helpless Mark Schwarzer and into the net to give Rovers the lead. Total time on the pitch at this point,; 23 seconds!
‘Boro then understandably responded by throwing everything at Rovers in a desperate attempt to restore parity but it wasn`t to be. Even after they made their way through Rovers resolute defence they were thwarted by the excellence of Friedel.
The game came to a close, which signalled the fireworks as a massive medley of players clashed in a bizarre hand bags at five scene. It is unclear why the pushing and shoving began but reports suggest it was a clash between Derbyshire and George Boateng.
Nevertheless, Rovers have started the new season with a win and with the abundance of striking options seemingly brimming with confidence; optimism is bound to be high.
Made some more remarkable saves to prove that a really good goalkeeper is woth extra points each season.
A few mistakes but didn’t dwell on it to put in a sound enough display.
Pace lacking and even positioning questionable at times.
A towering influence who seems to have put a few of those pre-season jitters behind him.
Wonderful variety to his service again.
Energetic and involved.
Worked tirelessly and showed his importance with some timely interventions.
Looking good and signs that the Dunny we know and love is almost back.
Couldn’t make much of an impact before the injury. Let’s hope he is okay.
Appeared lost at times.
Santa Cruz 8
Resoused the Rovers with his fairtale debut introduction from the bench. A lovely headed goal.