Rovers 1.v.0 Liverpool
26th December 2006. 15:00
Forget about the exorcism of Birmingham`s 100 year Boxing Day voodoo, it was Rovers` efforts in putting an end to ten years of waiting for a Premiership victory against Liverpool that makes the headlines.
November 3rd 1996 was the last time a Rovers side emerged victorious from a contest between these two teams in the Premier League. It is also poignant to point out this article isn`t a story about a little Welshman returning to haunt his old employers.
As expected, Benni McCarthy returned to the starting at the expense of Michael Gray as Rovers sought to absolve all memory of the unfortunate drubbing at the Emirates Stadium.
In freezing conditions the game began at a frantic pace, both sides eager draw first blood. It was Liverpool who had the first opportunity and it fell to the restored Peter Crouch. He tamely headed straight at Brad Friedel after good work from Craig Bellamy. Bellamy himself went close shortly after as did Jon Arne Riise.
Rovers` first chance of note in a well balanced opening quarter of an hour fell to Robbie Savage and should really have been converted. Rovers` wide men were peppering the Liverpool area with a number of teasing crosses. In the twelfth minute David Bentley provided another one of those balls into the area. Savage, arriving late and unmarked at the back post, could only divert his header back across goal and wide.
The game continued to be stretched from end to end with chances falling to Morten Gamst Pedersen, which was just about kept out by Pepe Reina, and then a great chance for Bellamy in the 17th minute. From a corner the ball was bundled through to the Welshman whose snapshot on the turn inside the six yard box was well smothered by Friedel.
Friedel was again called into action in spectacular circumstances in the 36th minute, again denying a free-header from Crouch before Andy Todd bravely blocked the rebound.
McCarthy showed quick feet to beat his marker with his right foot and drill a left footed effort at goal in the last five minutes of the half.
An eventful first half was brought to an end by Rob Styles with the scoreline still unmoved.
Rovers rallied at the beginning of the second half and duly took the lead. Tugay dispossessed a subdued Steven Gerrard on the edge of the area before first, cunning the defence with a smart step over and then deceiving them again with a sumptuous threaded ball through to Gamst on the left. Gamst`s precision placed ball across the six yard box embodied the ball he had received and it was coolly dispatched by McCarthy who bagged his tenth goal of the season.
A packed Ewood erupted and a partisan atmosphere ensued. Drums were thumping and a cacophony of, "get into 'em" and "Mark Hughes` blue and white army" echoed around the ground lasting a staggering eight minutes. Rovers were stirred and in this cauldron of noise, rallied in search of a second.
A similar rapid attacker saw Lucas Neill float a ball into the area, hastily grabbed by Reina before it could find its intended target.
Liverpool were on the back foot and looking nervous. They conceded a needless free-kick just outside the area but Savage couldn`t test the Spaniard between the sticks.
As the clamour of noise began to settle, so did Liverpool and Rovers began dropping deeper. Bellamy again troubled the Rovers back line with a long-distance effort. Then in the 66th minute, Bellamy`s swung a corner across and it hit a hand. The referee blew his whistle and promptly produced a yellow card but for Daniel Agger, much to the relief of a confused home support.
Rovers` attacks began to resemble an endangered species; rare and slowly dwindling. One moment of brilliance did present Rovers with a decent opportunity. Incredible skill from McCarthy, who appeared to be penned into the corner with two Liverpool players for company, allowed him to escape and charge towards the area only to be bluntly thwarted by a crude lunge from Xabi Alonso.
The resultant free-kick amounted to nothing.
Tension grew as Rovers sat back in a bid to absorb everything Liverpool could muster. Alonso was the chief threat. First of all he hit a post with a long-distance drive and was then denied by a match winning save from Brad Friedel. The save gained greater significance because the American stopper was carrying an injury following a collision earlier in the half.
His excellent sprawling, one-handed save coupled with smart blocks from Dirk Kuyt, who had earlier replaced a dejected Peter Crouch, ensured that Rovers stayed on course for three points. Some heroic defending thrown in for good measure meant that Liverpool were unable to break Rovers down and three welcome points served as a suitable, belated Christmas present in what was a festive cracker of a game.
There were so many stars out there but his wonderful goalkeeping meant that Rovers could enjoy three points on home soil again.