Rovers 3.v.0 Basel
2nd November 2006. 20:00
Attendance: 13, 789
The midfield maestro that is Tugay did it again on the glitzy European stage. His sumptuously placed strike from all over 25-yards put a sluggish Rovers side on course for their third straight European win.
The score-line flatters Rovers in all honesty as Basel should have been at least two goals up before Rovers even realised they were taking part in a competitive match.
Mark Hughes made three changes to the side that failed to perform at Upton Park last Sunday. He was boosted by the return of Robbie Savage, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Shabani Nonda. Aaron Mokoena, Sergio Peter and Francis Jeffers all dropped to the substitute`s bench.
There seemed a nervousness amongst the Rovers side early on that contradicted murmurs of arrogance as it appeared they felt they only had to turn up to over-turn Christian Gross`s side. How wrong they were and it wasn`t until the 41st minute that they finally realised.
By that stage the game could have been lost. First, Mladen Petric headed wide after arriving over Michael Gray at the back post. That served as a warning of things to come from the Swiss side, a warning that wasn`t heeded by Rovers.
Basel should have taken the lead in the 20th minute. Again Michael Gray was caught out as Reto Zanni lifted a ball across. Petric came soaring in unmarked and powerfully headed into the ground only to be denied a certain goal by the lightning quick reactions of Brad Friedel. At this stage every Rovers fan was grateful that Friedel was there and not with his wife, who is due to give birth.
On Sunday contingency plans were put in place for Friedel to leave should his wife, Tracy, give birth. However, there was no such plan for tonight`s game.
Rovers back-line continued to play like they had never met before as Basel swarmed all over their hosts, permeating gaps like water in a sieve. Rovers were over-run and losing control of the match. Once more Gray was exposed, this time through the pace and movement of Eduardo.
He got in behind and pulled a clever ball back for the normally prolific Petric who could only scuff his shot meekly wide of Friedel`s goal. It was a bad miss considering he was totally unmarked and had time.
Eventually it took the wise head of Tugay to take control as he and other experienced players like McCarthy kept hold of the ball in order to take the sting out of Basel`s free-flowing attacks.
Rovers were hit with a huge blow ten minutes before half-time as Savage pulled up with what looked like a thigh strain. He was replaced by Mokoena.
However, Rovers finished the half the stronger side. David Bentley, who had been impressive throughout with his close control and flamboyant passing, blazed over with just the 'keeper to beat after some excellent charging play from Nonda.
Gamst also had a half chance but his toe-poked volley from the edge of the area was comfortably straight at the 'keeper, Franco Costanzo.
The half ended 0-0, much to the relief of Rovers. Their first half performance had resembled Rovers sides of previous European campaigns; disjointed, nervous and above all, blunt.
Mark Hughes certainly galvanised his troops at half-time in what must have been a stirring team-talk. The air of frustration created by the 13, 789 crowd soon evaporated. As the temperature dropped further, prompting some players to don gloves, Rovers turned up the heat on the opposition, taking the game to them in the opening ten minutes of the second half.
First of all Nonda missed an excellent chance when Rovers contrived an opening down the right but he could only meet their centre with a weak header straight at Costanzo.
Nonda again went close from a Gamst corner. Gamst had started the second half like a Norwegian possessed; it seemed like he was everywhere, invading the Basel area with great authority and even timing a couple of excellent tackles.
He was looking like Rovers` most creative outlet as Bentley began to wilt in the freezing conditions. It was an immaculate ball from Gamst over the top of the Basel defence that put Nonda in for another chance. He again fired straight at the 'keeper, who had got his angles right.
Rovers were really taking control and the shots continued to pepper Costanzo`s goal.
Then the game hit another lull and Rovers were once again demonstrating all the signs of nervousness. Frustration began to creep in again as the drums dimmed to a quite echo and the stadium was filled with silent breaths that hung in the winter air.
However, the show wasn`t over and the master of ceremonies, Tugay, orchestrated another Rovers win in typically artistic style. Few players can make football look like an art form but the Turkish maestro does.
He elegantly brought a high ball down under his spell, casting off the attentions of Christiano before placing the ball perfectly into the top corner from 25-yards. A crescendo of noise followed as Ewood erupted to the cheers and beating of drums. The place had come alive again and all worshipped, 'Tugay, Tugay, Tugay`!
Still, Basel weren`t finished. They still had time to fashion another brilliant opening only to surrender it in a timid manner. Ergic, their captain was the culprit this time, aimlessly shinning the ball wide after Zurab Khizanishvili`s poor header had presented him with the chance just inside the area.
The game then descended into a free for all for the Rovers players. Paul Gallagher and Francis Jeffers replaced Nonda and Tugay, who deservedly milked his standing ovation, and it was Jeffers who struck next.
Some wonderful skill from Gamst, who had been toying with the Basel back-line in the second half with his close control and elegant touches, flicked a high flouted ball over Zanni`s head and beat the full-back to the ball in the area. Zanni gave Gamst a nudge for his troubles and the Norwegian went to ground. Rovers were awarded a penalty.
Surely not another miss! But who was going to take it? Well Jeffers was first to the ball and he duly put it on the spot. In Shearer style he walked away, turned, charged at the ball and walloped it right down the middle, so forcefully that it flew back out after hitting the net.
Ewood had now turned into a fanfare of excitement, colour and noise as Rovers went for the kill. Basel pathetically rolled over and allowed Rovers a third after great skill from Bentley, a precision pass from Jeffers, a well hit shot from Gallagher and an easy tap-in for McCarthy.
In truth the score did flatter Rovers but Basel, just like their match against Feyenoord, was made to pay for not taking their chances. Rovers now sit on top of Group E, three points clear of A S Nancy, who beat Wisla 2-1.
Mark Hughes will feel that his side have a very strong foot in the next round after tonight`s result. It is the kind of result that can lift a squad.
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Most sources will credit Tugay with the accolade but Gamst put in his best performance of the season. His energy and flair down the left made a huge difference in the second half. He looked like he had an appetite for the game and really showed how skillful and creative he is.