Thursday, August 25, 2005

Savage: the "supporter on the pitch"

Blackburn Rovers midfielder Robbie Savage is the "supporter on the pitch".

I remember Blackburn Rovers manager Mark Hughes saying at the time of the Robbie Savage signing that he bought him not only because he thought him a good player, but also because he observed that he is a player who very much play to the crowd. That observation could not be more than apparent last night against Tottenham Hotspur at home. Down to ten men and only minutes left to go for the match, Savage played a short corner to defender Ryan Nelsen and decided to run down the clock, much to the consternation of the Blackburn End, who could quite easily be heard on the television.

Another corner kick was soon won, and after conversing with the crowd he ordered Nelsen off because he wanted to give the supporters what they wanted and try for a corner kick that could finish in a goal. He over hit it and made a complete waste of it in the end, but that intent to treat the supporters to what they wanted is exactly the sort of thing that many clubs would like to have. Robbie Savage could perhaps be called the "supporter on the pitch".

Some good signs: an analysis and evaluation of Blackburn Rovers against Tottenham

The English Premier League fixture between Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur ended in a 0-0 draw at Ewood Park in front of a crowd of some 22,000 fans, which will be remembered for the controversy on the pitch rather than the quality of play.

If there is anything that must be said about this match from a Blackburn perspective, it must be said that Rovers could have easily earned the three points, if only there was not a lack of quality up front in the absence of Craig Bellamy and even Matt Jansen. However, that was not to be, despite Rovers having several shots on goal, as opposed to the solitary attempt by Tottenham.

Another thing that perhaps needs mentioning is that it is disappointing that Lucas Neill was sent off for a rash challenge and that an unidentified Blackburn player (probably captain Andy Todd) was spotted allegedly head butting opposition number Robbie Keane on camera, which will no doubt earn some close scrutiny from the authorities. Those incidences were sorely disappointing, to be honest, because before that I thought that we were playing a very clean game and really showing up the critics who think we are nothing but a dirty team. Alas, the negative media barrage looks set to continue.

Here is my analysis of the manager and the players.

Mark Hughes (9): Fair play to the manager for his tactical side of the game this evening. He decided to use the 4-5-1, and despite the seemingly negative formation, there was an attacking bite to it. The formation kept Tottenham under wraps all night, and indeed a win would have been earned had it not been for the lack of quality up front. It was also a smart move to keep the creative Tugay in the defensive midfield role, in favour of the preferred Aaron Mokoena.

Brad Friedel (8): The former United States international really had little to do this evening, but when he was called up to do a job, he did it without too much difficulty.

Lucas Neill (6): He gets his low rating for the sending off late in the match. He played a decent game at right back before that and showed defensive poise and a certain flair in attack.

Ryan Nelsen (7): There were a couple of times that I recall where he looked shaky in defence, and he also missed a quality Robbie Savage set-piece cross that should have been put away, but overall he did a decent job and kept a clean sheet in the heart of defence, so there is little more to criticise him for.

Andy Todd (7): He did his job. There is not much more that I can recall about his performance, other than the fact that he works well with Nelsen in a defensive pairing.

Dominic Matteo (7): The much-maligned left back performed solidly, but showed little attacking ability, which I suppose is no new revelation.

Tugay (8): He very much controlled the game in his defensive midfield position in his very poise and relaxed manner, and showed a great amount of skill and creativity. Not all of his passes were 100% successful, but that is the price to play for someone with his vision. If only he was celebrating 25 years of his life, rather than 35 years.

Brett Emerton (7): The right winger had a good game this evening and there was much to be pleased about his performance, in comparison to recent matches. He had a little bit more confidence in himself this evening, putting in shots and crosses, winning balls and corner kicks, and was a catalyst in attack a few times.

Robbie Savage (7): He played solidly and did his job in the centre of midfield, especially in winning the ball. In addition, he is very much looking fitter than he has been in the past for Rovers and we should start seeing the best of him in the not too distant future.

Steven Reid (7): He was a little bit too anonymous this evening for my liking, especially for a central midfielder, but he did not do much wrong.

Morten Gamst Pedersen (7): He had his usual game on the left wing, where he puts in a cross or two and helps the build-up of attacks. His corner kicks were disappointing this evening, which were mostly over hit.

Shefki Kuqi (7): The likeable striker tried his heart out, but it was obvious to see why he was signed as a back-up striker. His first touch is atrocious, and had it been better, he would have scored a couple of goals. Credit must be given to him for getting into good positions, though, and he makes a welcome change from the whinging and moaning of Paul Dickov at the referee, who consequently breaks up any chance of continuity in Rovers' style of play.

Jemal Johnson (6): He was a late substitute for Kuqi and was not on the field long enough to make an impression on me. He gets the default rating of six.

Aaron Mokoena (6): He was the late substitute for the injured Andy Todd and had little chance of making an impression, so he also gets a default rating.

In conclusion, the match was very heartening from a Blackburn Rovers perspective, despite the lack of a cutting wedge in attack and only earning a point in a scoreless draw at the end. To keep Tottenham Hotspur under wraps and pull the strings attacking wise is a good sign of things to come.