Rovers in Pole Position
The Reymonta Stadium
19th October 2006
Another superb performance against a lacklustre European side ensured Rovers begin Group E in Pole position.
Mark Hughes named an unchanged line-up from the one that performed so well at Liverpool on Saturday. In crisp conditions in southern Poland it was Wisla Krakow who kicked off on an uneven pitch.
A sluggish contest ensued with Rovers maintaining much of the early possession in a bid to stifle Wisla. The long blades of grass were proving troublesome and did more to upset Rovers` sharp passing and rhythm than Wisla themselves.
However, it was the home side who threatened first. Roberto Cantoro made a spirited, if not messy charge down the right flank before whipping across a delivery that had the Rovers defence scurrying to clear.
Rovers picked themselves up from this scare and threatened themselves through the dangerous David Bentley. Twice he fired in shots from distance that served as a warning to the home side that Rovers weren`t here for the draw.
Then in the 14th minute Rovers thought they had won a penalty only to see it cruelly waved away by the referee. It looked a certain penalty as Lucas Neill latched onto the ball after some hesitant defending from the home side. He then had the quickness of mind to slide the ball between a defenders leg before being scythed down.
However, the fault for Rovers not taking a deserved lead in the 19th minute lay solely with Morten Gamst Pedersen. The explosive Norwegian, normally so lethal with his left foot, screwed the ball horribly wide from just eight yards out with just the goalkeeper to beat.
A few dubious decisions were going against Rovers and in the 28th minute it appeared their luck was well and truly out.
Wisla`s first corner was drifted across and headed clear, but the dropping ball fell invitingly to Cantoro. He steadied himself and fired in a drive that took the cruellest of deflections off Tugay to totally wrong-foot Brad Friedel and roll agonizingly over the line.
Wisla were now in the ascendancy and took the game to Rovers. Rovers rallied late on in the half and went close with efforts from Shabani Nonda and Robbie Savage but Wisla held firm to see the half out.
The players jogged off to the dressing room down a goal and down on their luck too.
It would appear some motivational words from master tactician Mark Hughes at half-time galvanised the players after Nonda forced Wisla`s 'keeper, Emilian Dolha into an excellent save just seconds into the second period.
As the second half action unfurled amidst a descending darkness that was making conditions murky at best Rovers` main second half tactic became apparent; get Tugay on the ball as much as possible.
He began dictating the game as has become his custom in this season`s UEFA Cup competition. Certainly the slower pace and time afforded on the ball is of huge benefit to the Turkish passing Jedi. However, his Paduon pupil, David Bentley wasn`t to be out-done.
It was his exceptional ball into the box with his left foot that found the head of Savage. The birthday boy had ghosted into the box and kept his eye on the ball to guide a placed, downwards header into the goal where it nestled into the corner.
Rovers were level and clearly not going to sit back. The attacks rained in on Wisla`s goal after some smart balls into the box from messes Bentley and Brett Emerton, who had been making a number of surging runs forward.
Wisla were beginning to crumble under the pressure and began to resort to aggressive tactics. Bentley and Savage were certainly being singled for 'special` treatment.
The Rovers` players kept their heads though as the night air made the playing surface slicker and quicker. Wisla still posed a threat on the break (this is testament to the dominant display of the Rovers side that Wisla were forced to play on the break). Paulista and Cantoro, two South American`s in the Wisla starting eleven were particularly dangerous.
Friedel had to be aware to divert a sharp drive from Paulista with a little over ten minutes to go.
Mark Hughes signalled his intentions in the 75th minute by bringing on Jason Roberts for the ineffectual Morten Gamst Pedersen. Pedersen again struggled to have any influence on the game.
Bentley reverted to a more wide left position with Benni McCarthy behind Nonda and Roberts.
The contest began to peter out as Rovers were looking a little weary for the first time. Wisla tried to exploit this late on but the formidable pairing of Andre Ooijer and Zurab Khizanishvili looked insurmountable. Then came the moment of brilliance from Jason Roberts.
In recent weeks Roberts has made a difference having come off the substitute`s bench. He appears to be a better impact player than the departed Shefki Kuqi and it was his pace, skill and awareness that brought about the winning goal.
McCarthy slid the ball into him and he brushed aside the last Wisla defender with a lovely turn of pace before being denied by the impressive Dolha in Wisla`s goal. However, as another Wisla player rolled around on the floor supposedly writing in agony, Roberts ignored their blatant play acting to pull the ball back to the unmarked McCarthy.
His effort off balance was saved again by Dohla at full stretch but the ball rolled invitingly to Bentley who thumped a low finish into the net to ensure Rovers` travel back to Lancashire would be accompanied with three points.
In all fairness Rovers dominated the fixture and were worthy winners on a mild afternoon in Poland. Granted the opposition weren`t of the highest standard but nevertheless the blue and whites managed to brush Wisla aside with some aplomb.
It`s now eight games unbeaten for Hughes and his troops as Rovers continue their positive drive; steered admirably by the ever-improving Bentley.
Hughes said afterwards on Skysports:
"We are delighted to have won this match. Everyone understands that if you get something from away games you have a good chance of going through.
"Our passing was slow in the first half but we created more opportunities later on."
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I'm going to be different because everyone will say Tuagy who was equally superb as was Savage. This one was a close call but he set one up and scored the dramatic late winner.
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