Custom Search

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Manchester United Vs. Blackburn Match Report

United went eight points clear at the top of the league after victory over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday evening.

As is customary of late, Sir Alex’s men won by the slenderest of margins, although for the first time since November the Reds conceded a league goal.

United were made to work hard for the points but goals from Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo proved enough to seal an 11th consecutive win in all competitions.

The Reds made five changes from the side that produced such scintillating football against Fulham in midweek. Jonny Evans came in for Nemanja Vidic to get some more minutes under his belt before United’s trip to the San Siro on Tuesday (the Serbian is suspended for that match), while Rafael replaced John O’Shea at right-back. Wayne Rooney was handed his first start in six weeks, while Nani replaced Ji-sung Park on the left wing.

But perhaps the biggest shock came in goal, where Edwin van der Sar was rested in the league for the first time since the end of October. The Dutchman, who has sent goalkeeping records tumbling in recent weeks, was replaced by Tomasz Kuszczak.

The Polish stopper had precious little to do early on. Instead, it was Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson who had most cause for concern in the opening minutes.

Paul Scholes, fresh from one of his best performances in a United shirt three days earlier, shot narrowly wide in the third minute after finding space in midfield to run at Rovers’ defence. Sixty seconds later, Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross curled just beyond the far post.

Scholes blasted wide once more on 12 minutes when a half-cleared corner fell to the midfielder on the edge of the box. Moments earlier, Rooney would have succeeded in playing Michael Carrick in on goal had a Blackburn defender not intervened with a last-ditch sliding tackle.

More last-ditch defending saved the visitors on 17 minutes, Ryan Nelson hooking clear Ronaldo’s dangerous cross just as Carrick looked certain to head in from close range.

Much of United’s best work was coming down the right flank so it was no surprise that the Reds engineered the game’s opener from that area of the pitch. Nani, who’d drifted across from the left, curled a teasing cross in behind the Blackburn defence. Nelsen stretched to clear but failed to make decisive contact and the ball dropped to Rooney, who pounced from five yards to net his 14th goal of the season and his fourth in as many league appearances.

Recently, that would have been enough to secure victory. But nine minutes later Blackburn became the first team to breach United’s defence in the league since 8 November.

Indeed, 1334 minutes had elapsed – that’s more than 22 hours of football and 14 consecutive clean sheets – before Roque Santa Cruz evaded Rio Ferdinand’s tackle, rounded Tomasz Kuszczak and calmly rolled the ball into the net to level scores at 1-1.

And that’s how it stayed as the teams went into the break, although United will feel aggrieved to have had Jonny Evans’ header ruled out on the stroke of half-time. Referee Howard Webb ruled the Northern Irishman had used his arms to claim an unfair advantage at the corner, although replays suggested the decision was harsh.

Neither manager made changes at half-time and the second period began at a furious pace. Within two minutes, both sides had fashioned chances, with Blackburn going closest to finding the net. Only assured defending from Patrice Evra and then Jonny Evans kept the score at 1-1.

Blackburn’s confidence grew and 13 minutes into the second period the visitors hit the post. Ryan Nelsen stole in behind the defence to fire past Kuszczak but the ball cannoned back off the woodwork. The Pole then produced a fine save to keep out El-Hadji Diouf’s fierce follow-up.

United responded to the scare in the best possible fashion, Ronaldo rifling in a free-kick from wide on the left to restore the Reds’ lead. It was a stunning strike, fizzing over the wall and into the far corner beyond Robinson’s despairing dive. It was the sort of goal the Ballon d’Or winner produced so many times last season, and one that today proved just as important as it was spectacular.

Sir Alex immediately made a double substitution – Vidic for Evans, Tevez for Nani – that pushed Wayne Rooney out to the left. There, he encountered the fiery Diouf, a battle that provided thoroughly engrossing viewing for the rest of the evening.

United remained in control as the minutes ticked down. Not even Sam Allardyce’s decision to throw on Benni McCarthy for the last 10 minutes could affect a change in Rovers’ fortunes. Indeed, the game opened up even further for the Reds and Berbatov should have perhaps added a third with 87 minutes on the clock.

The Stretford End chorused, “We shall not be moved” during injury time. Certainly, with United now eight points clear at the top of the league, the task for United’s title rivals is looking increasingly more difficult.

Manchester United Vs. Blackburn Rovers Highlights Video Clip

Manchester United [2 - 1] Blackburn Rovers
23' [1 - 0] W. Rooney
32' [1 - 1] R.S. Cruz
60' [2 - 1] C. Ronaldo

1-0 W.Rooney 23'

1-1 R.Santa Cruz 32'

2-1 C.Ronaldo 60'