Blackburn Rovers claimed their first win of the season in a six-goal thriller against Manchester City, littered with first half defensive errors. Second half strikes from the irresistible Benni McCarthy and improving Paul Gallagher ensured Rovers weren`t to be denied by defensive slips for a second time in four days.
Mark Hughes had been expected to make changes to the team that drew with Salzburg in mid-week but settled for just the one. Gallagher returned to the bench as Hughes reverted back to a four-four-two formation with Francis Jeffers partnering Benni McCarthy for the second time this season.
Rovers got the game underway and showed all the signs of being in a European slumber as Man City charged at Brad Friedel`s goal from the off-set. It appeared he was the only Rover alert early on as he turned away an effort from Trevor Sinclair after just thirty-eight seconds. Many had expected a tight game at Ewood Park on the evidence of past meetings between the sides and the amazing fact that, between the two of them, they had managed to muster a paltry sum of just two league goals so far this season.
Man City certainly showed intent on rectifying that abysmal statistic and continued to bombard the Blackburn End with attacks as Rovers struggled like a battered boxer in the twelfth round to try and find their feet.
Ex-Rover Paul Dickov characteristically made a nuisance of himself early on; first, narrowly missing from twenty yards and then forcing Friedel into a comfortable save. The opening ten minutes passed with Rovers failing to create anything worthy of mention.
The turning point arrived on the quarter of an hour mark when Joey Barton failed to do better when presented with a glorious opening from Hatem Trabelsi`s pull back. Rovers cruelly went up field and scored totally against the run of play with their first effort on goal. David Bentley was fouled just outside of the area by Richard Dunne and Morten Gamst Pedersen whipped the resulting free-kick viciously into the danger-zone. For the second consecutive game Man City were undone by an in swinging ball as Trevor Sinclair assisted the ball into his own net.
Still despite taking the lead, Rovers seemed reluctant to press home any kind of initiative they may have had. The only creativity and quick thinking Rovers demonstrated came from Lucas Neill in the twenty-first minute. He trotted back onto the line as Joey Barton lined up a free-kick from twenty-five yards out. Friedel struggled to reach Barton`s effort and Rovers` captain timely headed the ball off of the line.
Man City continued to put balls into the box and create chances and their inevitable equaliser would arrive, ironically after Rovers began to muster some efforts on goal themselves, in the thirty-ninth minute. Barton, once again, arrived late into the penalty area unchecked but this time buried the ball into the corner past Friedel. The inclusion of American debutant DeMarcus Beasley, who replaced the injured Trabelsi just before the equaliser, seemed to have roused City and their fans; not least because Beasley was wearing red boots, something he was reminded of by the travelling support.
Rovers finally woke up and after Francis Jeffers had worked an opening for himself, which he dragged wide, Hughes` men regained the lead.
Again Bentley was fouled outside the area and again Gamst stepped up to make the delivery. There was no debate about the goal-scorer this time as Gamst`s arrowed effort curled into the far corner of the net. An excellent run by Andre Ooijer across Nicky Weaver in the City goal looked to have done enough to put the goalkeeper off.
Rovers` lead lasted barely more than a minute as the unfortunate Andre Ooijer diverted the dangerous Bernardo Corradi`s cross into his own net. Rovers` players and fans had to watch as the ball agonizingly squirmed over the line.
The match official, Martin Atkinson, blew his whistle to end a pulsating first half as both teams trudged off having more than doubled their season`s goal tallies in forty-five minutes. Half-time the game was poised at two-two.
Despite twice leading in the first half, Mark Hughes appeared less than happy with the display and duly altered things by replacing an over-run Tugay with Aaron Mokoena and Francis Jeffers with Shabani Nonda.
A lacklustre start to the second period suggested neither side was prepared to gain the initiative. Defences were on top for the first time in the game as a sense of frustration began to set in exemplified by the first bookings. First was Man City`s Dietmar Hamann followed by Robbie Savage and then Micah Richards became the second City player booked on the hour.
McCarthy was becoming increasingly irritated by his lack of opportunities and he too went into the referee`s book. However, his frustration would be short-lived as Nonda looked to make an impact on a drab second half. The energetic front man won a throw-in off the legs of Richard Dunne and had the presence of mind to take the throw quickly himself, freeing Gamst into acres of space.
Gamst glided into the area and picked out McCarthy who coolly slotted home his second goal in four days and third for the season. Rovers were now enjoying the majority of the possession, keeping the ball well and engineering chances. Nonda went close and Gamst sent over some dangerous looking balls. The home supporters were beginning to make their presence felt as they looked to cheer Rovers on to the final whistle and a first win of the season.
Then, with a little under ten minutes remaining the influential Barton presented Micah Richards with an opportunity to square things up once more. However, the player ended up in the net as the ball flew wide from his poorly-timed header.
Rovers looked to maintain possession again and the remainder of the match was played in City`s half as Hughes` side demonstrated an ability to hold onto the ball with great professionalism.
The game was put beyond doubt in the last minute of regulation time as Paul Gallagher scored his first Rovers goal since 2004.
Nonda was once again heavily involved as his clever flick found David Bentley who in turn, released Brett Emerton. He evaded one challenge on his way to the by-line before looking up and taking his time to pick out the right Rovers shirt in a crowded penalty area. The ball was laid onto Gallagher standing around the penalty spot and he fired high into the roof of the net to put the game beyond doubt.
There was still time for Weaver to make an excellent sprawling save to deny Nonda a deserved goal deep into injury-time.
Rovers will come away happy to win a game of two halves on an afternoon that could have been so different but for City`s dissipated finishing. It was some inspired substitutions from Hughes that brought the points to Ewood.
Hughes told Radio Rovers afterwards: “It wasn`t a great first half from our point of view, we scored two goals but hadn`t really done a great deal at all in the game up to that point. But, the second half was much much better.
“Towards the end we looked strong and looked like we had more goals in us.“
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Could have done little about both goals, otherwise solid and made some smart saves.
A typical Lucas Neill display. Captained his troops well and showed great awareness to clear Barton’s effort off the line.
Continues to improve and impress. Starting to fulfil the potential that he showed on his debut in 2003 both defensively and as an attacking force.
Generally read the game well and looked solid, although lost his man on a couple of occasions, which would have been costly against better opposition.
Still settling into the Premier League, desperately unlucky with the own goal.
A return to form for Gamst who caused problems with his explosive left-foot
Continues to look good, especially with his passing and movement. However, needs to start taking his chances.
Worked hard as usual in the centre. Booked
Looks like the pace of the Premier League is finally catching up with the midfield maestro.
Took his goal well and led the line stoutly again. Rovers need to create more chances for him on the evidence of his finishing so far. Doesn’t often miss
Once again showed signs of the quality he used to have but needs to demonstrate this more often in a match.
Fast, direct and creative; Hughes may well have pulled off a coup here.
An accomplished display, sticking to his task well which reduced the threat of City.
Looks better with every appearance. Although not an out and out goalscorer, he took his goal well. His vision and creativity wll be of huge benefit this season.