Rovers 0.v.1 Man United
11th November 2006: 17:15
It would appear that on the evidence of this evening`s Premplus fixture that Mark Hughes has a lot of work to do to rectify what is fast becoming a drought of West Ham proportions.
Rovers looked uninterested, nervous and devoid of any great quality; miles (not literally) from the side that looked so enterprising and determined in Wisla almost a month ago.
Mark Hughes made one change to the line-up with Brett Emerton deemed fit to play. He replaced the abject Michael Gray, thus forcing Lucas Neill to operate at left back again.
The game got underway, in typically early winter conditions. The rain poured down providing both teams with an early obstacle. Both sets of players were keen to get a feel for the ball as conditions took an early advantage.
In the driving rain the pitch began to demonstrate all the signs of a bog, making it tough for the players to keep their feet and taking the pace out of the game.
The closet either side came to breaking the deadlock in the first fifteen minutes was through a long distance deflected drive by Shabani Nonda that looped narrowly over United`s crossbar.
A precession of whipped Morten Gamst Pedersen corners ensued, with Andre Ooijer missing a free header at the near post from one.
However, United were looking more ominous and seemed to be playing within themselves.
With the flair of Christiano Ronaldo and vision of Paul Scholes, who was putting in a virtuoso performance, United soon stamped their authority on a fixture they have found notoriously hard to conquer in recent seasons.
However, the first half will be remembered for the incredible talent of Wayne Rooney, the only player in world football who can make a ball go backwards after hitting it forwards. His open net miss from three yards will surely be remembered for years to come and will always be used to ensure that he keeps his feet on the ground, which is perhaps what he should have done on that particular instance.
He wasn`t finished there though. After some wonderful play from Louis Saha (who would no doubt break all goal scoring records if he signed for Rovers on account of his incredible record at Ewood Park) and a smart bloke from the effervescent Brad Friedel, Rooney was presented with a chance to reprieve his earlier embarrassment. But in true keeping of the forthcoming festive season, he decided to surprise Rovers with a gift and miss again, with the goal gaping…again!
The half ended with the scores surprisingly still level, and Ronaldo`s knee intact despite the best efforts of Tugay`s right boot.
Rovers looked roused and ready for the second half and took the game to United. Zurab Khizanishvili should have given Rovers the lead but he glanced a header wide from a Gamst centre. As Rovers tried to exert some authority on the game, referee, Mike Riley was losing all of his, needlessly flashing yellow cards at anybody who touched another player or opened his mouth.
Then the game turned after some more static Rovers defending. Ryan Giggs was allowed to drift in at the back post to divert a John O` Shea cross back into the six-yard box for the inevitable goalscorer, Saha to volley home.
Rovers should have then raised the tempo in search of an equaliser but seemed content to sit back and admire the many skilful touches of Ronaldo. With the winker and Rooney working in tandem United were always threatening on the break, if they had to break.
A decidedly unenthusiastic response from the players in blue and white did little to stir the vast majority of 26,162 with a single thump on a drum five minutes before the end summing up the night for Rovers.
Benni McCarthy did have a decent volley well saved by Edwin Van Der Saar and Rovers managed to force a number of corners, one which Gmast flouted straight onto the crossbar, but Rovers looked a beaten side.
Again it was another disappointing display, especially considering United never really got out of third gear.
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