Rovers 2.v.0 Man City
12th March 2007. 16:00 k/o
It was a classic F. A. Cup story at Ewood Park on Sunday. Aaron Mokoena, Rovers` midfield enforcer, raised a few eye-brows by scoring the opening goal, his first for Rovers but marred his day with his first red card for the club too.
Mark Hughes made a single change for the game, bringing in Tugay for the suspended David Dunn.
It was a typically gritty cup-tie that had all the ingredients of a third round scrap between lower league sides, eager for a crack at the big time.
Well the big time was certainly the incentive here as Wembley looms, thus a place in the history books.
Both sides started nervously on a cut-up playing surface, bobbles prevalent early on. Rovers looked uncharacteristically nervous at the back, needlessly conceding a number of corners and slicing many attempted clearances.
More depressingly for a packed Ewood Park, neither side was showing any quality or potency in front of goal. That almost changed shortly after the twenty minute mark. An expertly whipped cross into the box from the right by David Bentley married with the head of a perfectly placed Matt Derbyshire. He had eluded his marker, Micah Richards, but headed over with Nicky Weaver flapping.
However, the opening goal wasn`t far away. A ball dinked into the box from the left on 28 minutes was flicked on by Morten Gamst Pedersen in the direction of Benni McCarthy. A towering Richard Dunne diverted it back in the direction it came from but, following a rebound, it found its way fortuitously into the path of Mokoena. In the blink of an eye he lashed the ball home past Weaver from just inside the penalty area. It was the kind of finish you would expect of his fellow countryman.
Rovers were in control and it meant they could dictate the play. They kept the ball well amongst themselves across the back with little indication to attack. City did manage to break clear on a couple of occasions but a combined lack of composure and timing meant Brad Friedel ended the half untroubled.
Man City needed to play with a greater urgency in the second period but it was Rovers who came tearing out in search of that second and fatal goal, albeit without an injured Ryan Nelsen. He was replaced by Zurab Khizanishvili.
Derbyshire once again ghosted into space to connect with a Bentley cross but his attempt was blocked by an unaware Sylvian Distin. Then came a moment of brilliance. A loose ball out of defence by Distin was pounced on by Bentley. He briefly looked up and then chipped Weaver from the corner of the area only to see his effort bounce back off the crossbar to the gasps of the stadium.
Rovers were looking the most likely but a spate of yellow cards disrupted the flow of the game and, with the game threatening to boil over, a red card was imminent. The unlucky recipient was Aaron Mokoena. It looked like an innocuous incident but, having already been booked, Mokoena should have realised what was going to follow.
The card of a red tone rallied Man City like a Spanish bull to the cloth. Rovers were being forced back but didn`t look flustered.
Man City threw everything at Rovers including the full physical frame of Micah Richards. However, Rovers stood firm with Brett Emerton and Chris Samba in particular standing tall and fighting to the last.
As Man City poured forward they were leaving themselves exposed at the back, a vulnerability seized on by Rovers` academy.
Sergio Peter had been brought on to replace Tugay, who left to a thunderous standing ovation that was milked for well over a minute. He was released in the area in the last minute and as everyone expected the young German to pull the trigger, he showed the kind of awareness and precision passing that makes him a huge future talent. His ball across the area was met by Matt Derbyshire who fired Rovers into the semi-finals for the second time under Mark Hughes.
Solid through out but as soon as the red card was issued he really stood tall. Energy and aggression ensured City were not going to get the better of him nor his team.