Boro v Rovers
The Riverside Stadium
11th August 2007
Well we are finally into the final countdown as this time in less than 24 hours we will know the outcome of our first game of the season; and let`s hope that it is somewhat more favourable than our last two opening games.
All questions will be answered; who will be in the starting line-up, what`s the first choice strike pairing, who will partner Robbie Savage in midfield, is God and his Wall as impenetrable as we think? The waiting, deliberating and debating is over.
A summer, quiet for Rovers when compared to our rivals who have spent lavishly, is at an end and the friendlys are out of the way…roll on the real stuff!
Many anticipate that clubs such as West Ham, Portsmouth, Newcastle and Man City are about to embark on a successful campaign due to the new recruits added to average squads, however, my tip will be to watch those teams sneaking under the radar at their own pace and two of them come face to face at the Riverside on Saturday.
This is likely to be a fixture that most neutrals won`t give a second glance to but I fancy teams such as Rovers and Middlesbrough to enjoy successful campaigns, and with this in mind predict that Rovers will end one run and prolong another.
Both clubs have spent modestly in the summer and made some wise acquisitions as well as an enigma. Boro have recruited the largely unknown entity in Sanli Tuncay and Rovers have gambled on Bayern Munich`s unfulfilled forgotten man Roque Santa Cruz. Both players are technically sound and will offer some continental flair, in fact I tip Tuncay to be one of the signings of the summer, such is the potential of his skills.
However, whereas Tuncay looks set to start on Saturday it remains to be seen whether or not Hughes will blood his new attacking charge or stick with the telepathic partnership of Jason Roberts and last season`s Premiership second top goal-scorer, Benni McCarthy.
Rovers are traditionally slow starters but seem to have a habit of beating 'Boro these days. Alas, I think both trends will come to an end on Saturday as both sides begin their campaign with a point.
However, the fact that Rovers have already played two 'competitive` games may work in their favour.
The Premiership is back, the fervent buzz of excitement can be felt all across the country and the sun has positioned itself for front row tickets. So come on Rovers fans, pull on the famous blue and white halves and wake to the rousing anthem of the Final Countdown as we cheer on Rovers for another action packed, passionate season in the footballing world`s number one league.
Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate on his side having lost the last five games against Blackburn:
'I don't think it will mean anything to our players, especially as we now have a lot of different players in the team. The past doesn't matter. We have prepared to try to win a game of football and that is all that we are thinking about.
'We know that Blackburn have dangerous players but then so does every team in the Premiership, including ourselves. Bearing in mind the way we want to play, I am more thinking about hurting Blackburn rather than what they may do to us.'
The Admiral on avoiding a third straight defeat on the opening day of the season:
'A good start is very important and we've not had that in the past. We haven't put points on the board early, we've always taken until Christmas before we've caught up and started to kick on. But this season we are motivated to put that right and start well.'
Hughes on squad strength and solidaity:
" I think we are stronger at this point than we were last year,' said Hughes. 'We had lost Ryan Nelsen and Steven Reid to long-term injuries at this point last year, so having added to the squad and welcomed guys back from long-term injuries during the season as well, we are certainly a lot stronger.
'I think as a group, we are stronger as well, because we've been together for a couple of seasons now. And I think that is important given all the swaps and changes that possibly other clubs are going through.'
Middlesbrough Team News:
Middlesbrough are severely struggling with defensive options as recognised centre-backs Jonathon Woodgate, Robert Huth and Emanuel Pogatetz are all absent through injury. This has forced manager, Gareth Southgate to pick from a number of rookies. 'Boro have become renowned for their youth system but this news serves as a huge blow.
On a brighter note, Luke Young is set to make his debut in defence as will Jeremie Aliadiere in attack alongside Yakubu. As afore mentioned, Tuncay will also feature.
Finally, Brazilian midfield terrier Fabio Rochembach will also miss out due to a suspension served out due to a red card in a pre-season friendly.
Middlesbrough from: Schwarzer, Jones, Young, Taylor, Hines, Riggott, Davies, Wheater, Tuncay, Arca, Boateng, Downing, Cattermole, Johnson, Yakubu, Aliadiere, Dong-Gook
Player to watch: Jeremie Aliadiere
'Boro fans will be glad that star striker Yakubu will be starting the season at The Riverside and although he has a fetish for scoring against Rovers I feel it is his strike partner Rovers need to be wary of.
Jeremie Aliadiere has always demonstrated a lot of potential and it is a well known fact that he is a rapid player. When Rovers clashed with Arsenal last season in the F. A. Cup Aliadiere terrorised Hughes` side with his pace and direct play. He will need to be watched closely on Saturday.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Mark Hughes, for the first time in a long has a fully fit squad, bar Steven Reid and Bruno Berner. Swiss left-back Berner broke a bone in his ankle in pre-season and is expected to be out for up to four months. Steven Reid, who missed all but two games last season, was close to a return but a hamstring strain has hampered his progress.
The only selection headaches for Hughes are in attack and midfield as he must decide who will start! Maceo Rigters and Santa Cruz are in the squad but will they feature?
Rovers from: Friedel, Enckelman, Olsson, Ooijer, Nelsen, Samba, Warnock, Khizanishvili, Emerton, Mokoena, Tugay, Dunn, Bentley, Savage, Pedersen, McCarthy, Santa Cruz, Rigters, Roberts, Derbyshire.
Player to watch: Morten Gamst Pedersen
Ooooh, who to choose from. In all honesty most eyes are going to be up-front and on Benni, Jr and Santa Cruz, depending on who starts. However, the key for me is the wide men. David Bentley and Morten Gamst Pedersen are going to need to have huge season`s as our teams style of play now seems to revolve around them. Also, just to add extra pressure, they have been declared the best wide pairing in the division by one pundit, a view universally agreed with by Rovers fans.
However, my stand out man is Gamst. What a player he has become but, and it`s a big BUT, he needs to start scoring consistently. On a number of occasions he missed horribly easy chances last season (I shall refrain from dithering on THAT miss) and they need to be taken this season. If he can start scoring more as well as weighing in with his assists then we are in for a successful campaign.
Match Facts & Stats
Andre Marriner is the man in the middle on Saturday. In his six matches last season he issued 23 yellow cards and one red, which was to our Stephen Warnock in the win against Sheffield United.
Rovers need to exploit 'Boro`s defensive frailty and in Benni in particular we have a lethal frontman. For the first time in years we have a brilliant array of attacking options and hopefully they will flourish o Saturday against 'Boro`s defence. As much as I predict Rovers to grab a couple of goals, the threat of Yakubu and Aliadiere and Tuncay should have Hughes scheming. Unfortunately I can`t see past the draw, however, it will be an exciting encounter. Bentley to open the scoring in a 2-2 draw.
MyPa on Thursday as Rovers bid to make the UEFA Cup proper. The fixture is the first of two legs and will be contested at MyPa.