Saturday 15th August 2009
Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester City (Premier League)
Although everyone wants to start their season at home, the next best thing is an away fixture at a ground just up the road that can accommodate a large travelling support. Blackburn Rovers is a favoured away day amongst City fans for this very reason, and Ewood Park was the scene of a famous City victory in 2000 – a 4-1 win which sealed promotion back to the Premier League after a four-year absence. Therefore, the fixture list’s throwing up of Blackburn away as City’s opening game of the 2009/10 season sparked much excitement, not least because it was to be the team’s return to competitive action following a summer of lavish spending.
Despite that promotion clincher at the turn of the century, Ewood Park had hardly been the happiest of hunting grounds for City in recent years, with no successes since a dramatic 3-2 win in 2003. However, 2008’s visit certainly felt like a victory, with goals in the 88th and 93rd minutes rescuing a point from 2-0 down.
Three-quarters of Ewood Park is an impressive two-tiered affair, with the Darwen End, Jack Walker Stand and the Blackburn End joining together to create a sizeable structure. However, the rather more modest Riverside Stand (formerly the Fraser Eagle Stand, and this sponsorship could still be seen on its exterior) looks like it has been transported in from a completely different ground. Even the blue colour scheme of the stadium’s seats is interrupted by the Riverside’s streaks of red. However, it could be argued that such an irregular stand adds to the ground’s character – although I expect it to be the first area to be re-developed should Blackburn decide to expand Ewood.
City were given the entire Darwen End as usual, but Blackburn’s ticket arrangements were slightly different this season, with 15-game season tickets being sold for that stand. City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Burnley were the four clubs to receive the full 7,000 allocation, and the Darwen End was rocking for the opening game of the season.
With three players making their débuts – a forward, a midfielder and a defender at that in Adebayor, Barry and Kolo Touré – there were a few apprehensions about how quickly the team would gel. However, less than three minutes were on the clock when the first of those débutantes opened the scoring. Seconds after Richard Dunne and cleared off his own line, Adebayor pounced on a loose touch from Samba and spread the play wide to Shaun Wright-Phillips. He jinked his way past Warnock before laying the ball off the the onrushing Adebayor to sweep home for a dream start.
That quietened the Rovers fans, but they soon found their voice again when the home side started an aerial assault on the City box. Pedersen’s long throws, corners and free-kicks rained in as Blackburn enjoyed the majority of the first-half play, but Touré and Dunne remained steadfast. When Shay Given was called into action, he excelled, with a tremendous dive to his left to deny Samba a highlight. At the other end, Robinho’s 25-yard effort, tipped over by Robinson, was the closest City came to extending the lead.
Unusually for an opening day, the rain lashed down at the start of the second half. This didn’t dampen the already vibrant atmosphere, as both sets of supporters roared their sides on – notably without the infamous drum in the Blackburn End. At first, the game followed a similar pattern to the majority of the first half, and Given had to be at his best again to deny Roberts. As the minutes ticked by, however, Rovers began to get more desperate and made three attacking substitutions. As their attacks became blunter, space opened up for City to exploit through counter-attacks. Robinho and his replacement Tevez forced saves and Ireland scooped over when well-placed. In injury-time, the latter was set free by Wright-Phillips and seemed to take an eternity before calmly slotting under Robinson to send the away support behind the goal delirious.
After staying behind after the final whistle to applaud the players off the pitch, we walked back up to the Darwen High School, used for car-parking on matchdays. Despite City and Blackburn fans taking the same journey without segregation, there was no hint of trouble. Overall it was a fantastic day out aided in no small part by the result, and a perfect start to the season. This was my third visit to Ewood Park (not counting an England U21 game in the midsts of time – in fact, Shaun Wright-Phillips played) and it’s become one of my favourite grounds. There was a fantastic atmosphere on this occasion and it’s sure to be a day that lives long in the memory.