The date Friday 7th October, 2011 will be etched forever in the history books of Indian football, as this was the day when a top division football team from England played a football match on Indian soil. History was created when Blackburn Rovers Football Club locked horns against I-league side Pune FC at Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune, which is also the home ground of the Pune side. The ‘Red Lizards’, as they are popularly known as among their faithful, flaunt a healthy fan following in the region, but it would not be surprising to state that since the club’s inception in 2007, it was probably the first time when all the 36,000 seats in the multipurpose stadia were jam packed. The Blue and Whites were in town.
BLACKBURN ROVERS FC
The Lancashire based football club is not short of history, as the Riversiders are six time FA cup champions and have finished at the top of the premier English football division three times.The Premier League, since it’s inception in 1992 has seen four winners, and Blackburn Rovers take a proud slot in that list. Recently, the club has been witnessing some tumultuous time and was acquired by the Venky’s group in November last year. The team managed to crawl up the league table in the concluding months of the last season and just avoided the relegation. The club is placed at the rock bottom of the Premier League table and has managed to garner only a single victory since the season kicked off in August.
The exhibition match between the two sides had been on the cards for a while now, as the Venky’s Group owners openly stated that that they would love to see Blackburn Rovers play a match in India, against an Indian club. The match was earlier scheduled in July, which was also the pre-season for the English side, but due to some unseen and tragic attacks in Mumbai, the match was postponed. As the international break beckoned in all the football leagues across Europe, owing to the Euro 2012 qualifiers, the moment of opportunity was seized by both the clubs to dish out the exhibition match which had the whole country buzzing with expectations.
The Match Report
Here are the starting line-ups of both the teams from the game yesterday:
Pune FC– Shahinlal Meloly, Othallo Tabia, C.Costa, Chika Wali, Anas, Gurjinder Kumar, Venkatesh, Baldeep Singh Jr., Douhou, Arata Izumi, Jeje.
Blackburn Rovers FC– Mark Bunn, Riberio, Aley, Christopher Samba, Givet, Formica, Yakubu, Rochina, N’zonzi, Hoilett, Jason Roberts.
Blackburn coach, Steve Kean, didn’t disappoint the massive crowd by deploying many star players in the starting lineup. Some stars like Pedersen were missing as they were busy fulfilling their national duties, but players like Christopher Samba, Michel Salgado, Nigeria International Yakubu and Jason Roberts made the cut. On the other hand, Coach Derrick Pereira fielded his best side possible, barring the injuries to Subrata Pal and striker Mandjou Kieta, who were set to miss the historic encounter due to injuries.
The match started as all the pundits and fans had expected. The Blues and Whites settled quickly on the Balewadi pitch and started dominating the possession with the Red jerseys defending deep within their own half. Soon the match excitement got the better of young left back Anas Edathodika, who got himself cautioned for a reckless tackle on Junior Hoilett in the seventh minute. The resulting free kick was headed dangerously towards the goal by Togo international Samba, but gritty defending cleared the danger for the Pune side. The inevitable happened as Anas got himself booked for the second time owing to another ill tackle, this time on Argentine Formica, which saw him leave the field. This was just after the home crowd almost burst into joy as Baldeep Singh was found in some space by India international Jeje Lalpekhlua and the former JCT mans’ shot flew past the crossbar, almost giving the home team an astonishing lead. Down to ten men, Pune FC defenders and midfielders knew that they were in for a hard evening as the rain poured in.
Goalkeeper Shahinlal produced the performance of his life as the Pune FC number two demonstrated a series of breathtaking saves to continuously deny the Blackburn strikers. Blackburn forwards Jason Roberts and Yakubu were frustrated by the organized Pune FC defending and wave after wave of Blackburn attacks were cut short by Chika Wali and Costa. It took a moment of brilliance by former Wigan Athletic striker Jason Roberts to break the deadlock who slotted a low shot past diving Shahinlal Meloly to give the visitors the lead. Moments later Hoilett tried a to chip the ball over the goalkeeper and was successful in doing that, just to see his amusing effort bounce back off the crossbar. The teams went into the halftime break with Pune FC finishing the half with mediocre efforts on goal by Jeje which did not trouble the custodian Bunn.
The same story was repeated in the second half as Rochina blasted a long range goal bound effort and once again Shahinlal thwarted the striker, coming up with another world class save. The Blackburn defence line was often seen treading the half way line as the whole team started knitting attacks and the Pune side almost shaped in a 4-5-1 formation. Steven N’zonzi’s effort was cleared off the line and Formica’s shot was once again saved by Meloly. Spanish born striker Ruben Rochina doubled the advantage for the Riversiders as his shot beat the Shahinlal Meloly all ends up this time, just after five minutes into the second half. Many substitutions were made by both the sides as both the managers were trying out the young blood on the bench. Lester Fernandes, Subhash Singh and Paresh Shivalkar were thrown into the mix by Pereira. The trio did sizzle with their pace but most of the counter attacks were unfruitful and were met by stern Blackburn defenders. The match was sealed by Jason Roberts, who completed the match with a brace, when his shot found the net in the 70th minute. Shahinlal kept the score line to a respectable 3-0 as he pulled out some tremendous point blank saves, along with some off the line clearances. The match finally ended with Blackburn winning the tie three goals to nil. The Pune side can take heart in their performance as they made the Lancashire side work hard for all the three goals which attested the latin motto on their badge – Arte et Labore, which is translated as by skill and by labour.
Pune FC did lose out eventually, but no one expected the Red Lizards to go out there and beat the first Premier League side to visit India. Without a doubt, the players, the coaching staff had a good learning experience and the crowd witnessed history in the making. A club, which is not even five years old, still developing its feathers, is sure to fly high with the amount of support it has and development programs the club endorses. It is just the start for the Pune based club as they ended up winning many hearts yesterday.
TheHardTackle’s Man of the Match
Shahinlal Meloly– The Pune FC Number One came up with a breathtaking performance to produce a series of world class saves and avoided a humiliating scoreline in front of the full house. Coach Derrick Pereira stated that the team would surely give a demo of their fighting prowess before the I-League kicks off in October, and Shahinlal and the defenders certainly proved their coach’ words right. It can be easily said that India’s Number One Subrata Pal was hardly missed.