It was lethargic, uninspiring and quite dull, but it got a job done. Rovers will leave Finland with a first leg lead courtesy of birthday boy`s full debut strike.
Mark Hughes only made a single change to the starting line-up that strode out at The Riverside on Saturday, replacing the unfit Benni McCarthy with Roque Santa Cruz, giving him his full debut.
On a humid evening in Finland, the air was pricked with anticipation as fans crammed into MyPa`s modest stadium, filling it with colour and noise. However, a deathly silence fell on the ground, interrupted by the echoing cheers of a pocket of blue and white fans chanting to the tune of Santa Cruz as the 26-year-old Paraguayan opened the scoring on six minutes with a crisp finish.
He was released by a neat pass from strike partner Jason Roberts as the gangly forward appeared to have adapted to his colleague`s style of play rather quickly.
It was the early goal manager, Hughes, would have wanted and it went a long way to settle the team. Rovers played a controlled game, keeping possession for long periods and relying on the probing David Dunn and distribution of David Bentley, who resembled an archer elegantly picking out his moving targets with precision.
However, despite Rovers enjoying prolonged periods of possession few clear cut chances were forthcoming. Santa Cruz had a header saved and both David Bentley and David Dunn tried from distance but to no avail.
The hosts seemed content to sit back and stifle and hope to strike lucky with one of their sporadic attacks.
The half petered out with many Rovers fans expecting a second half barrage from the blue and white halves.
However, what followed was a rousing display from MyPa, spurred on by the boisterous home support, who are deceptively noisey.
For a period of ten minutes immediately into the second half Rovers were pegged back and struggled to clear their lines under the assault of disjointed after disjointed attack from the home side.
Cross swirled through the air as players collided in a bid to remain water-tight. However, the energy of the home side soon dwindled and Rovers were once again able to steady the ship. However, both wingers, Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Bentley were all at sea wit their crossing. This created a disjointed passage of play that only changed when Hughes made his first substitution, bringing on Matt Derbyshire for Jason Roberts.
Derbyshire and Santa Cruz linked up well and a few half chances came and went. A double substitution on 72 minutes that saw Tugay and Brett Emerton enter the fray in replace of Dunn and Pedersen respectively, temporarily lifted the tempo, with Emerton looking fresh and enthusiastic.
He latched onto a deft ball laid into his path by Santa Cruz to almost add a second to the score, however, the MyPa`s ‘keeper was quick off his line.
At the back, Ryan Nelsen and Chris Samba were once again looking resolute, with Samba throwing everything into the cause.
However, no further goals were scored giving Rovers a slender advantage ahead of the second tie at Ewood on August 30.
It will do but could have been more and it`s perhaps a slight disappointment that the lads didn`t wrap this one up in the first leg.
Literally had nothing to do other than a few catches.
Supported the attacks and thwarted MyPa’s wide play. Never gives up running.
Did little wrong in a confidence inducing display.
Commanding through out.
Literally is a wall.
Decent first half with a full repertoire of passes on show but it all went miserably wrong in the second half.
Too often disappears.
Energetic and everywhere.
Looked good controlling the play.
Santa Cruz 8
Movement, touch, panache and a ruthless finish to boot. Not bad for the birthday boy.
Put himself about as normal. Things aren’t quite falling for him at the moment though.
Looking more and more like the real deal. Confidence is high.
A passing masterclass upon his appearance.
Will have a big part to play this season and looked fresh here.