What a night. 18,888 fans (36 from Salzburg) witnessed Rovers` 11 year wait for a European victory come to an end. A dazzling display of attacking football, crisp passing and commanding defending saw Rovers clinch a comprehensive win against Red Bull Salzburg.
In a light downpour of rain Rovers started the game nervously giving the ball away in their own half after just 30seconds but Tiffert`s effort was weak.
That early wake up call galvanised Rovers into action. They kept possession well, forced a few corners and managed a couple of efforts on goal as they went about their Austrian opponents in bullish mood.
Benni McCarthy forced the first excited cheers from a solid attendance as he combined well with David Bentley before drilling a near post effort at goal that was forced around the post for a corner by Timo Ochs.
The first yellow card of the game arrived after 11minutes when Alexander Zickler was booked for hacking at Brett Emerton. He had not long returned to the pitch after a clash with Robbie Savage; it doesn`t really say much for Zickler does it?
Salzburg were displaying all the signs of nerves and looked off the pace. Rovers too, although the more settled side, were struggling to keep possession as the game descended into a scrappy affair mid way through the first half.
Some acrobatic inventiveness from Morten Gamst Pedersen almost provided a goal. He controlled a long ball at the back post, lifted the ball of his marker back into the six-yard area before acrobatically volleying at goal, only to be denied by Ochs.
A few nervous moments at the back were comprehensively dealt with by the colossus Andre Ooijer. His head is high again and he is beginning to look like the commanding presence needed at the back in the Admirals absence. On a night when aerial presence was paramount for Rovers Ooijer was soaring high making defending look easy when under pressure.
Rovers embarked on a prolonged period of pressure pinning the visitors back. Nonda went close, Savage got another hit to the head and McCarthy turned on a sixpence to raise the stakes for Salzburg.
It was pure inspiration from Benni McCarthy as he exquisitely swiveled, changing direction to leave Thomas Linke bamboozled before finding the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
Rovers continued to press and a quickly taken throw-in down the right released David Bentley. He whipped across a pinpoint delivery to find the head of the on-rushing McCarthy who somehow managed to steer his header wide with the goal gaping.
Rovers went in 1-0 up at half time and looked good value for it.
There was to be no respite for Salzburg as Rovers came storming out for the second half. Tugay played an exquisite out-side of the boot pass through the middle, dissecting the Salzburg defence to find Lucas Neill. Unfortunately his effort was just wide.
Lucas Neill on the left and Brett Emerton at right back set the precedent for Rovers second half display often appearing in advanced positions.
Some crisp passing and hard work eventually led to the second goal. Shabani Nonda worked hard to head the ball back to David Bentley who controlled the ball with his chest. He then unleashed a viciously dipping half-volley that threatened to tear the net out of the ground. The same force was used to volley the corner flag into the advertising hoardings as Bentley effectively booted Salzburg out of Europe.
This aggression would lead to the first of three bizarre yellow cards awarded to Rovers players. McCarthy would be next after scoring a disallowed goal, but the best was saved for Brett Emerton. Nonda was volleyed into touch so Emerton went over to have a word. It is unclear what Emerton was booked for; one can only assume it was for the assistant referee getting the ball pinged in his face. However, this came from the direction of the crowd and with the referee`s powers not extending that far, he perhaps felt it necessary to book the nearest player in blue and white.
Oh, all of this happened after Gamst had been poleaxed thanks to a thumping forearm to the face from Bondar?but the ref missed that. (No wonder he is banned in his native Portugal.)
This is as much of a fight Salzburg gave as Rovers controlled the game after the second goal.
But for some poor passes and bad decisions Rovers could have easily had more. Both Aussies kept surging forward with Emerton beginning to show some wonderful skill and close control belying the obvious talent he has.
Rovers zipped the ball around well on the damp surface and there is a real understanding between the players now. The link up play from the team as a whole was a joy to behold, with every player working twice as hard to cover positions in attack and defence.
There was even time for a one-man showboating display from Benni McCarthy to the whoops and cheers of a jubilant home support.
Salzburg did threaten to break on occasions but Ooijer and Zurab Khizanishvili looked solid. Ooijer made one particularly brilliant tackle when it looked like Nico Kovac might sneak through with Rovers exposed.
A partisan atmosphere descended over the ground as a sea of blue and white danced in the aisles to the beat of the drums.
The final whistle sounded to bring Rovers their first win in Europe since the destruction of Rosenborg in 1995. All that was left was a morbid pre-match funeral provided so aptly by Rovers legends, Tim Sherwood and Mike ‘monotone` Newell (both dressed in black suits with white shirts and black tie) for the demise of Salzburg`s European adventure.
It was a superb team display with strong performances throughout but it will be remembered for the wonderful goal by David Bentley. This is what European football is all about!
Hughes said to Skysports afterwards: “I thought we were excellent-getting after the ball quickly and shifting the ball with our passing. It (the UEFA Cup) is high on our list of priorities and we showed that with the manner of our performance tonight“
Benni McCarthy, who scored an excellent goal himself, was blown away by Bentley`s effort. He told the official web site: “Confidence is flowing through his veins so why not try it, it was a great strike and the ‘keeper was never going to get anywhere near it“
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Not a lot to do really.
Excellent going forward and in defence. Surely he wants to stay after performances like that?!
Wow, he really does have talent. Excellent on the ball.
Commanding, determined and reads the game well.
Solid again at the back, for once over-shadowed by Ooijer.
Worked hard, nice skill and some rasping drives, especially the free-kick.
What a goal!!!
Substituted early in the second half. Usual energetic display though.
Had time again. Suits the European game. Exhibited a wonderful array of passes.
This guy has it all, fantastic goal. Watch out for his own slot on Soccer A.M. showboat!
Always works hard and gets into good positions.
Tough tackling display needed when he came on-duly obliged.
Didn’t have a chance really.
Unlucky with a burst into the area, denied by the keeper.