Everton 1.v.0 Rovers
10th February 2007. 15:00
On a cold but clear afternoon on Merseyside, a Blackburn Rovers side succumbed to injuries and an impressive display from Everton.
Everton started the game brightly in their usual four-five-one formation, spearheaded by birthday boy Andrew Johnson. He was showing all the typical endeavour and running he normally does, worrying the Rovers defence in the process.
It wasn`t long before he had some reward for all of his hold up play and movement. A ball into the box in the 10th minute wasn`t dealt with by Rovers, which allowed the 26-year-old England international to nip in behind and poke the ball beyond Brad Friedel.
Already Rovers were up against it and were dealt another blow in the 15th minute that further disrupted their plans. David Dunn, making his first start for Rovers since re-signing for the club, was called upon to replace the injured Morten Gamst Pedersen. However, he joined the Norwegian on the injury list after an innocuous challenge with Phil Neville. This meant Jason Roberts was brought on prematurely for the second consecutive game. He went up front with Paul Gallagher reverting to left-wing.
These disruptions and the resolute Everton midfield ensured Rovers generated little in the first half. In fact it was Everton who continued to press and could have doubled their lead through Johnson again and Everton debutant Manuel Fernandes. Fernandes` effort was particularly close, requiring a smart finger-tip save from Friedel at full stretch just as half-time loomed.
The only effort Rovers could muster was from distance and came from Zurab Khizanishvili. He lashed an effort at goal from distance that almost caught Tim Howard out but the burly American recovered to tip the ball over.
Rovers needed a lift and it appeared Mark Hughes gave them that during the half-time interval. Rovers came haring out of the traps at the beginning of the second half.
Paul Gallagher did well to work an opening for himself before firing an effort across goal that Howard once again tipped to safety.
Rovers were showing the urgency needed to force a way back into the game but it was Everton, on the break, who should have doubled their lead.
Andrew Johnson was again making a nuisance of himself and he connected with an Arteta ball across the six-yard box. He really should have hit the net with his left foot but he opted for his right and flicked it off target.
As the minutes seeped away, the Everton defence dropped deeper and their midfield became more compact. In a scrappy exchange of play, Chris Samba hurried fired over when presented with a half chance from a corner.
Francis Jeffers was introduced to replace Paul Gallagher and he was greeted by a chorus of boos, boos that were attached to him every time he received the ball.
Rovers continued to press whilst encamped in Everton`s half and bar a few sticky moments for the Toffees, they looked resolute enough to repel anything a weary Rovers side threw at them.
This appeared to be a game too far for Rovers who looked short on ideas and rhythm against a solid Premiership defence.
It was hard to notice anyone who stood out in particular but Bentley provided urgency and sparks of creativity at times.