Read a full match report of the FA Cup third round game between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City at Ewood Park on Saturday Jan 4, 2014, kick-off 12.45 (GMT).
After a superb second half display which earned them a replay at the Etihad on Jan 15, Blackburn Rovers left the field to a sound not heard often in the last few years: Ewood Park was rocking in noisy appreciation of a job well done.
“It was a phenomenal effort from our lads,” said Gary Bowyer, the home manager. “We restored some pride in the club today.”
He was right there. Honest, aggressive and full of endeavour his young Blackburn team caught out a Manchester City side seemingly labouring under the impression that merely turning up would be sufficient to progress.
Rarely can Manuel Pellegrini’s distinguished collective have been as complacent as this. Were Tom Cairney and DJ Campbell marginally more accurate in their shooting in the last few minutes, then the world’s richest club would have been already dispatched from the competition.
Here’s how unexpected a result this was: there are not many who would have put money on Campbell being but a whisker from emerging as the hero of the third round.
Not that the game kicked off with much hint of the excitement that was to follow. Nowhere was Blackburn’s long term decline more visible than in the Ronnie Clayton stand.
While the visiting end was packed with 7,500 boisterous City fans, the home section was barely a third full, the whole top tier bereft of paying customers.
Maybe the visit of the best the Premier League has to offer was too depressing a reminder for the locals of what they have lost in the precipitous decline of the Venky years.
Yet City were hardly a sparkling advertisement for the top division. Their only efforts of consequence in the first 40 minutes were Fernandinho’s long range shot and Álvaro Negredo’s failed attempt to bamboozle Paul Robinson, making a splendid return to the Blackburn goal after a year out following back surgery.
The less said of David Silva’s spoon over the bar from Dedryk Boyata’s inviting pull back the better.
As lackadaisical as City were, though, it was hard to see how Blackburn might exploit their visitors’ lethargy.
Sure, Cairney and Chris Taylor were paragons of industry in midfield, but Scott Dann’s header into Costel Pantilimon’s hands from a corner was their best first half effort.
You wondered what Jordan Rhodes might do with the opportunity to run at Joleon Lescott.
He, though, was consigned to the bench. According to Bowyer he was been given a breather after a crowded Christmas schedule. That’s the magic of the FA Cup for you, when a mid-table Championship side uses a glamour fixture as an opportunity to rest their leading scorer.
No matter how uninterested City appeared to be, with but a minute before half time, came the inevitable. Silva swung in a corner, it was nodded on by Edin Dzeko to Alvaro Negredo who, neatly stepping away from his marker, hammered home at the far post.
The Blackburn players looked in vain for the offside flag, but the truth was they were beaten by the precision of the Spaniard’s movement.
There were few taking their half time tea who were not convinced City would ease on from there unhindered into the fourth round. But Blackburn emerged from the interval seemingly determined to create an upset.
“We said at half time we’d learn about the players over the next 45 minutes,” said Bowyer. “And we did.”
His team were level within ten minutes of the restart. City were undone by the sort of clumsy error by Pantilimon which had it been made by Joe Hart would have led to an FA inquiry into the under performance of English keepers.
Rudy Gestede’s header from a Cairney corner went straight at the goalie, but instead of grasping the ball to his chest, the Romanian spooned it up to Dann who stabbed home, sparking the sort of celebration not seen in this ground since Alan Shearer used to point his forefinger to the skies.
From there, Rovers went at their distinguished visitors. Snapping into tackles, bundling into the second ball, they frequently caught the strolling James Milner and Javi Garcia in possession.
A degree of panic set in to City’s work. Lescott was blasting the ball anywhere, while Boyata’s wild hack at Campbell earned his second yellow and he was off. By the end it was City’s manager who was anxiously hoping for the final whistle.
“We played against a very strong team, with a lot of motivation,” said Pelligrini. “I will be disappointed if we lose. But we are not out.” That was about the only positive he could draw: despite losing sight of the momentum in those last few minutes, the favourites are still in the Cup. Just.
Blackburn (4-5-1): Robinson; Henley, Hanley, Dann, Spurr; Cairney, Lowe, Williamson (King 64), Taylor, Marshall (Campbell 80); Gestede (Rhodes 80).
Subs: Eastwood, Kilgallon, Rochina, Judge.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Pantilimon; Boyata, Lescott, Nastasic, Clichy; Fernandinho (Toure 63), Garcia, Milner; Silva, (Zabaleta 88), Dzeko, Negredo (Navas 74).
Subs: Hart, Kompany, Kolarov, Lopes.
Booked: Boyata, Nastasic.
Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).