Rovers' Euro Frustration
Blackburn Rovers came so close to their first European win in twelve years but they were denied by Salzburg`s super-sub Marc Jancko. The giant forward was left unmarked in the penalty area in the ninety-second minute to power home his header just seconds after Friedel had produced a wonderful one-handed save to keep Rovers ahead.
Hughes had looked to keep things tight in bid to ensure that Rovers would finish this game still in with a shout of qualifying from the tie. He replaced Francis Jeffers with Paul Gallagher and reverted to a four-one-four-one formation that would see Tugay sit in front of the back four.
Before the game kicked off it was announced that Red Bull Salzburg fans had beaten Blackburn Rovers fans in a friendly match earlier in the city ten-three. I`m sure everyone connected with Rovers was hoping that would be the only thing that Salzburg fans would be celebrating.
Salzburg got the match underway and dominated proceedings early on as the Rovers team looked to get to grips with the plastic surface. Salzburg were awarded the first of ten corners as early as the fourth minute and the indications suggested the home side would look to put as many balls into the area as possible.
However, Rovers looked comfortable in dealing with any early attempts; the same couldn`t be said for the home sides defence. First Morten Gamst Pedersen almost beat the keeper to a short back-pass before the keeper himself, Timo Ochs, let a ball squirm through his grasp and, to his relief, only trickle out for a corner. The home team were definitely nervous.
Tough tackles were flying in from all over the park before the game`s first major incident over-shadowed proceedings. After eighteen minutes the game descended into darkness as the floodlights failed. The players waited anxiously in anticipation on the pitch before they were plunged into further darkness as all of the lights went out around the ground. After a six-minute delay, play was resumed.
The delay seemed to have an affect on the Rovers team as they were caught napping on the half-hour mark. A quickly taken free-kick by the lively Christian Tiffert would by-pass both Lucas Neill and Zurab Khizanishvili finding Alexander Zickler who promptly slid the ball beyond the helpless Brad Friedel.
This seemed to rouse Rovers out of a temporary snooze as they hit back with immediate affect.
David Bentley was fouled just outside the area providing Rovers with a chance to level things up immediately. Robbie Savage stepped up and curled a sumptuous free kick over the wall and into the top corner leaving Ochs in the goal totally stranded. It was his first goal of the season and only his third in sixty Rovers appearances.
This stunned the home team and Rovers pressed sensing fear and confusion amongst the Salzburg ranks. A flurry of yellow cards would be issued as Salzburg looked to upset Rovers` rhythm by scything down players in red jerseys at any opportunity.
Then, in the thirty-eighth minute Benni McCarthy won a free kick on the edge of the area. This time Morten Gamst Pedersen stepped up and pierced the wall with a pearler from all of thirty yards. Ochs got down to make the save but spilled the ball out into the path of Benni McCarthy who bundled the ball into the back of the net. Rovers were now in front.
Salzburg looked in complete disarray as another yellow card was issued, this time to Ezequiel Craboni. As half time approached the subdued Nico Kovac went close for the home side as they looked to restore parity.
After seven minutes of time added on the referee blew for half time with Rovers leading two-one.
Giovanni Trappatoni made a change for Salzburg at half time, replacing Vladimir Janocko with the giant six foot- five centre forward, Marc Janko.
As the home side looked to approach the second period with a more direct style of play they continued to look nervous at the back as Bodnar almost put Gamst, who has finally emerged from his early season slumber, through on goal with a poor back pass. Once again, Ochs came to the rescue for his defence.
Salzburg continued to enjoy possession and bombard the Rovers penalty area with a number of long balls looking for the head of Janko. Brett Emerton, Khizanishvili and Bentley all tried long distance efforts in rare forays into the Salzburg half.
Just after the hour Trappatoni revealed his hand and threw all of his cards onto the table as he made a double substitution bringing on Johan Vonlanthen and Karel Pitak for Christian Tiffert and Patrik Jezek.
However, it was Rovers who went closest to scoring again as Savage embarrassingly blazed over from a smart pull back by Gamst, who then narrowly misses with a glancing header from a Savage centre. The game became increasingly stretched as play was rapidly shifted from one end to the other.
As the game reached the final ten minutes Rovers found themselves penned into their own half as wave after wave of Salzburg attack rained down. Friedel had to be alert to divert a Pitak effort and reach a couple of dangerous looking corners.
The corners were piling up for the home side as some nerves began to creep into the Rovers side, even the assured Khizanishvili was beginning to make mistakes.
Sergio Peter was introduced with ten minutes left to add some pace to the Rovers side and Shabani Nonda joined him seven minutes later. They replaced Gallagher and McCarthy respectively.
Rovers were forced to spend the remainder of the game in their own penalty area as their inability to clear their lines was forcing them back. In a flurry of attacks Salzburg hit the woodwork after Friedel diverted Kovac`s effort onto the post, and Tugay was forced to head Linke`s long-range pile driver off the line after it dissected a medley of players in the area. The inevitable was surely only moments away and it looked liked it had arrived in the last minute but for a wonderful one-handed save from the mercurial Friedel.
After the third official indicated three minutes of added time Salzburg once again lifted themselves for one final assault.
As Rovers failed to clear an initial ball into the box sufficiently Salzburg returned with another delivery from Bodnar, who had seemed intent on providing Rovers with a goal all night with his suspect defending. Ironically it was his ball that found the head of an unmarked Janko to produced a ninety-second minute equaliser for Salzburg.
So the game finished two apiece leaving the tie perfectly poised for the second leg at Ewood Park on 28th September. Hughes will be satisfied with his players` display and will look to take this encouraging performance into Sunday`s fixture against Manchester City.
Hughes told Skysports afterwards, "There was a goal in the last few seconds, and from our point of view the tie should have been over by then. We have two away goals, which will be very important, but we need to win the game."
Hughes also paid tribute to the team and Tugay on the official web site, 'I thought the outstanding performer on the night was Tugay, he put on an absolute masterclass. I'm sure he enjoyed it, there were a lot of good performances throughout the evening and the pitch wasn't an issue for us.'