Cristiano Ronaldo News

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Report: Blackburn 0 United 1

11/11/2006 19:10, Report by Ben Hibbs

Make no mistake, this was a big result for United. Not least because it maintained the Reds’ form in the Premiership – six wins on the trot and still three points ahead of Chelsea – but because Blackburn have been, in recent seasons at least, such difficult opponents for Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

United played with the same vigour, verve and voracity that earned comfortable wins over Portsmouth and Bolton, but poor weather and the stubbornness instilled by Mark Hughes kept the scores level for over an hour.

But Louis Saha’s eighth goal of the season preserved the Reds' advantage over Chelsea. Most promisingly, this kind of fixture would perhaps have seen United stumble last season. Not this year.

Disappointing results and performances recently against FC Copenhagen and Southend contradict the Reds' form in the Premiership, where United have won each of the last five matches. And continuity is seemingly central to those performances, with Sir Alex selecting the same eleven players that so thoroughly saw off Portsmouth 3-0 last week and Bolton 4-0 the week before. The only difference was that Ryan Giggs played behind Louis Saha, with Wayne Rooney on the left.

However, Blackburn have posed United significant, especially since Hughes took over in September 2004. Prior to this meeting, the Reds were without a win at Ewood Park in eight years. The last victory - 3-1 in April 1998 - came courtesy of goals from Andy Cole, Paul Scholes and David Beckham.

The teams were greeted for the 100th competitive match between the two sides by an immediate downpour. The lashing rain merely added to the frenetic pace at the start of the match, with United’s passing as slick as the Ewood Park surface.

For all United’s early work, however, it was Rovers who went closest first on 17 minutes. Striker Shabani Nonda, on loan from Italian side Roma, hit a speculative shot from 30 yards, which might not have troubled Edwin van der Sar but for a deflection off Nemanja Vidic. Fortunately, the ball arced over the bar.

United responded immediately. Saha, United’s top scorer this season, muscled his way through Blackburn’s defence and tested Brad Friedel with a right-footed shot from the edge of the box. Then Rooney created an opportunity from nothing. Racing onto an over-hit pass from Giggs, he left Khizanishvili trailing and forced another fine stop from Friedel from an almost impossibly tight angle.

On the balance of play alone the Reds should have been in front, but Blackburn remained unpunished. On the half hour mark Ronaldo fired in a cross any forward would dream of receiving, all Rooney needed to do was apply the finish, but he didn’t connect with his left foot and a glorious chance was gone.

Ten minutes later, though, he had the opportunity to atone for the glaring miss. Rooney was first to react to Friedel’s save from Saha’s long range shot. Again the ball was bouncing, but the Reds striker, playing much of the first half on the left wing, failed to even hit the target. Moments later he was booked for protesting against referee Mike Riley’s decision not to award a penalty after Saha tumbled in the box, most likely motivated out of frustration at his previous misses. That said, Rooney was one of United’s liveliest players in a half lacking only the final touch.

Blackburn returned with renewed purpose after the break and within minutes of the restart almost took the lead. Morten Pedersen whipped in a trademark dangerous, curling freekick from the right, which Khizanishvili headed a matter of millimetres wide.

With an hour on the clock Rooney went close again, twisting and turning in the box, but Friedel, so often United’s nemesis, saved low to his right. Just as United fans with an all too familiar memory of frustrating afternoons at Ewood Park started to fear the worst, the deserved breakthrough arrived. On 64 minutes, John O’Shea, replacing the injured Gary Neville at half-time crossed deep to the far post, where Giggs expertly hooked the ball back for Saha to finish on the half volley.

At 1-0, though, Blackburn were not dead and buried. There were a few heart-stopping moments, most notably when McCarthy smashed a close range volley goalwards, which van der Sar spilled. But, the Reds were resolute in defence. In the end, the goals margin between the two sides was narrow, but the gulf in quality meant victory was well deserved.

Team Line-ups

Blackburn Rovers: Friedel, Ooijer, Khizanishvili, Neill, Mokoena, Emerton, Bentley (Peter, 79), Tugay, Pedersen, Nonda (Jeffers, 84), McCarthy.
Subs not used: Gray, Henchoz, Brown.

United: Van der Sar, Neville (O’Shea, 46), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (Silvestre, 89), Ronaldo (Fletcher, 90), Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Saha.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Brown.



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