Date:Sunday December 31 2006
30th Dece,ber 2006. 15:00
Rovers battled against the conditions, the officials and Gareth Southgate`s Middlesbrough to claim back to back league victories for the first time since the 1-0 win over Boro earlier in the season.
On a typically dull Lancashire evening in winter time the rain poured down converting the Ewood Park surface into a boggy marsh.
Mark Hughes elected to start with the same eleven faces that walked out and battled so bravely on Boxing Day against Liverpool. Hughes` opposite number, Gareth Southgate, made changes with Mark Viduka and James Morrison returning to the starting line-up.
The game got under way with both sides dredging through the middle of the park in a bid to claim early domination. With the ball sticking and stopping frequently, interrupting any kind of rhythm, Rovers` much maligned captain Lucas Neill elected to loft the ball over the Boro defence in a bid to engineer an opening.
This lower league tactic paid off in the tenth minute as Neill`s punt in the swirling rain unleashed Shabani Nonda. The in-form Congolese striker raced away from Boro`s static defence before elegantly lifting the ball over Mark Schwarzer with a well-timed volley.
Rovers had been dominant in the early exchanges and were good value for their lead. Morten Gamst Pedersen and Benni McCarthy had gone close before Nonda scored.
The home side turned the screw on their visitors who were looking second best all over the park. Rovers could have doubled their advantage but would be made to pay for a number of near misses. David Bentley and Nonda were both within inches of connecting to crosses and Boro`s exhausted defence constantly denied Benni McCarthy.
The half drew to a close with Rovers firmly in control, often getting the better of the Boro defence and making the better of the conditions.
In mildly improving conditions the sides kicked off for the second period. Rovers had been the dominant force in the opening forty-five minutes and began the second period determined not to let their slender lead slip.
Chances continued to rain in on Mark Schwarzer`s goal particularly from Benni McCarthy and Gamst, who was once again looking aggressive and determined.
However, as the rain rescinded as did Rovers` immediate chances of claiming three points. The referee, just as so many others in that profession have done this season, needlessly pointed to the spot mid-way through the second half to hand Boro a way back into the game.
Initial scrutiny raises question marks over the decision to penalize Lucas Neill for a tug on Emmanuel Pogatetz but that didn`t stop Boro`s top scorer Yakubu coolly slotting the ball past Brad Friedel.
The equaliser knocked the wind out of Rovers` sails and, in the blustery conditions, they struggled to regain the level of performance that had seen them take an early lead.
Tuagy was replaced by Aaron Mokoena as the conditions certainly didn`t suit the cultured midfielder. With Mokoena sitting deep it allowed a chance for Robbie Savage to play more aggressively and it was he who lifted Rovers back into the lead.
A surging run by Savage from midfield that petered out before the finish managed to stir the majority of the 22,000 plus crowd and it was Savage who provided the telling cross for Rovers` winner.
A corner was swung in with just quarter of an hour remaining but it was punched clear by Schwarzer. The ball fell to Savage who whipped a cross back into the area finding Rovers` top scorer, McCarthy, who had risen majestically to beat Jonathon Woodgate to the ball. His header from the centre of the six-yard box nestled into the net and Rovers were back in front.
At this stage the game could have gone either way with Boro piling on the pressure and Rovers playing on the break.
It was a hard fought victory for Rovers in horrendous weather conditions but, just as the recent scoreline against Arsenal, it wasn`t a fair reflection of Rovers` performance. They could and should have won this game by a greater margin.
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Date:Sunday December 31 2006
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