Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pedersen struck a spectacular equaliser to leave the Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester United in the balance. Louis Saha gave United the lead in the 29th minute, latching on to Ryan Giggs’ pass to powerfully beat Brad Friedel. But Pedersen’s rising drive five minutes later put Blackburn level. United dominated possession in the second half, but resilient Blackburn held on to leave honours even for the second leg at Old Trafford.
United ended their policy of fielding youngsters in this competition with a major final in sight, but there was no place for new signings Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra. Also, as predicted, Ji Sung-Park was unable to shake off the injury that he had suffered in the warm-up against Burton Albion. It was a shame, as Sir Alex Ferguson had indicated a preference to play Park, possibly even in a central midfield role. Blackburn, looking for a sixth successive win, almost took the lead inside 25 seconds as Robbie Savage’s powerful volley was blocked by Edwin van der Sar. But United were soon into their stride, with the dangerous Wayne Rooney shooting over the top when well-placed, then forcing a diving save out of Friedel with a first-time shot. There was no reprieve for Blackburn as United swept into the lead in the 29th minute, Giggs surging at the Blackburn defence to set up Saha for an emphatic finish from just inside the area.
Blackburn responded in style and were level as Pedersen struck a spectacular equaliser after 35 minutes. Shefki Kuqi contested an aerial challenge with Rio Ferdinand, and when the ball fell for Pedersen, he struck a rising drive that left Van der Sar well beaten.
Players from both sides were involved in an angry flare-up before the interval, with Alan Smith’s reckless challenge on Savage sparking a predictably angry reaction. Rooney also became involved and referee Rob Styles ended the fracas by booking all three players.
Kuqi had a good chance to put Blackburn in front three minutes after half-time, but he shot hopelessly wide from Craig Bellamy’s pass. Smith had to leave the pitch to have stitches in a head wound after he came off worse in an aerial challenge with Friedel.
Rooney then looked poised to restore United’s lead with 17 minutes left, but his fierce goal-bound shot struck Saha and rebounded to safety. United were dominating possession, and it forced Blackburn into a late double substitution, sending on Brett Emerton and Steven Reid for Tugay and David Bentley. Sir Alex Ferguson responded positively by sending on Ruud van Nistelrooy for Saha, but the game petered out.
Continues to improve and is beginning to repay the manager’s faith and look like the real thing.