Belfast Telegraph

Blackburn rovers 1, Manchester City 0: Hughes' sparkling gems bring end to Eriksson and City's honeymoon period

By Nick Harris

Benni McCarthy's early, decisive goal at Ewood Park yesterday was the least Blackburn deserved from a game they dominated, often in style, to put a full stop on Sven Goran Eriksson's honeymoon with Manchester City while remaining unbeaten themselves.

With eight points from four league games – not to mention four wins, nine goals and none conceded in four Uefa Cup matches – this is Rovers' best start to a campaign for a decade.

"We played well against a good team, and deserved our victory," said Mark Hughes, Blackburn's manager. "I'm delighted, we're in good shape."

A red card for Tugay – for two wholly avoidable bookings for shirt-pulling – was one downside to the hosts' day, not least because Tugay was only on the field because of an injury to Robbie Savage. The knock to his leg was not serious, Hughes said.

But City had a man sent off too, Richard Dunne, for two yellows, so Tugay's mistakes were not so costly. Rovers also had four others booked, but Hughes assertion "that it was never a dirty game" was right.

It is far too early to say that Eriksson's grand plans for a City renaissance are off the rails. Blackburn, on this evidence, are a tasty side indeed. But City managed just two shots all afternoon, both from Martin Petrov, and only one of those was on target.

"There are two reasons we lost," Eriksson said. "We have to make more chances when we have so much possession. And we need to defend better at set pieces. I'm disappointed today, we should have done better.

"But the future will be good. I'm not worried about this defeat. We kept the ball, we kept it more, then suddenly they got a corner and scored. I'm quite convinced I have the players that will make a good football team."

Eriksson's explanation did not do Blackburn justice. Hughes is building a side with gems in all areas, and it was impossible yesterday to name a single man among his starting XI who did not play an important role in a fluid, communicative team performance. Roque Santa Cruz, the £3.5m Paraguayan signed from Bayern Munich in the summer, troubled City in and around the box.

In a week when Euro 2008 qualifying will take centre stage, England fans can be heartened by the fine performance of David Bentley, if less by a slightly shaky game by Micah Richards in the opposition back line.

Bentley shares more than initials, a good right foot and dead ball skills with David Beckham, who he is set to replace in Steve McClaren's side. Bentley has pace, for a start, and can beat people with the ball at his feet. He also looks comfortable moving inside.

Blackburn's goal arrived from a corner, won from Morten Gamst Pedersen's deflected cross after patient pressure. Bentley swung the ball in, Christopher Samba nodded it back across goal from the far post and Santa Cruz headed an attempt. It was parried by Kasper Schmeichel – who was excellent, again – and McCarthy stabbed in the rebound.

Rovers could have extended the lead several times. David Dunn's header from a Bentley free kick went just over. Bentley should have been clear on goal but the referee blew for a non-existent foul, by him. Santa Cruz elicited a fine save from Schmeichel with a point blank header, and moments later hit the post. Before half time, he also set up McCarthy, who could not dig out a shot, and Pedersen, who did. The second half saw myriad other chances, and both red cards, first to Tugay, then Dunne.

Belfast Telegraph


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