By Chris Harris
Eleven days ago Blackburn made a major contribution to probably the dullest game Emirates Stadium has seen. You can expect much more excitement at Ewood Park tonight.
Mark Hughes' side, riddled by injuries and jaded by a long trip to Leverkusen, went into their shell and held Arsenal to a 0-0 draw earlier this month. Now they have key men back and a new sense of purpose in the FA Cup, their final chance of silverware after tumbling out of the Uefa Cup.
We spoke to Andy Neild of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph ahead of tonight's replay. Read on to find out why Blackburn's tactics at the Emirates were justified, why Shabani Nonda is the man in form and why the FA Cup means so much to Hughes.
Andy, what did you make of Blackburn's tactics at
"I don't think you could blame Blackburn for the way they set up in that game. They had a lot of key players missing and after two defeats against Arsenal they had to try and make themselves as hard to beat as possible. To be fair they defended very well over the 90 minutes. Brad Friedel made some key saves but he was only called into action in the last 20 minutes. Blackburn's gameplan worked. I was a bit surprised by Arsenal. I got the sense that they felt it was just a matter of time before they would score and they didn't seem to play with a lot of urgency."
Who impressed you in the Blackburn side?
"Arsenal stepped up a few gears in the second half of that game but couldn't find a way through. Much of that was down to Ryan Nelsen. He has been out virtually all season and is feeling his way back to full fitness, but that was comfortably his best game so far. Samba also had his best game since joining Blackburn from Hertha Berlin. At the moment the £400,000 Blackburn paid looks like a snip. Samba is six foot five and reads the game well. He's only 22 and he's a good prospect."
Do you expect Hughes' tactics to be more expansive tonight?
"I think Hughes' tactics will be a bit more open. He only played one striker at the Emirates and I think he's revert to 4-4-2 at Ewood Park. Benni McCarthy was left out at the weekend and Shabani Nonda scored two goals so it will be interesting to see if Hughes sticks to the same front two who played in the Portsmouth game."
What does Nonda bring to the Rovers side?
"Nonda has got a real eye for goal and he tends to stick his chances away. He had a good goalscoring record at Monaco and won the French Golden Boot while he was there. Nonda moved from Rennes to Monaco for 20 million euros in 2000, a French record at the time. He's on loan from Roma and is a proven goalscorer. One or two injuries have held him back recently but he is in good form now."
How much did the Uefa Cup defeat against Bayer Leverkusen affect Rovers?
"It was a major disappointment because Rovers had been flying high in Europe. They were unbeaten in seven games, they topped their group and they felt the competition was one they could go all the way in provided they got past Leverkusen. They let themselves down in Germany and were quite fortunate to get away with a 3-2 defeat. They made some sloppy mistakes and it proved costly in the end because they couldn't turn it around in the second leg."
So is tonight's replay even more significant now?
"The FA Cup does mean a lot more now. In fact it's the FA Cup or bust as far as Blackburn's season is concerned. Going out of Europe will really sharpen their focus. As for Hughes, I don't think any competition excites him as much as the FA Cup. He's won it four times as a player and you can see in his eyes how much it means. When the draw is made he's like an excited little kid, the Cup definitely gets him going."
Is it true that David Bentley has signed a new contract at Ewood Park?
"Yes, he has signed until 2011. Bentley has been a revelation this season, possibly Blackburn's best player. Hughes has led the calls for Bentley to get an England call-up."
Finally Andy, what did you make of the Carling Cup Final?
"I thought it was fantastic as a spectacle. Arsenal played the better football and deserved to win in my opinion, but Chelsea just had that extra experience when it mattered. Everyone is talking about the melee at the end but it has been blown out of all proportion. It tarnished the occasion a little bit but it was just down to passion. It's a Cup Final and players want to win it, don't they?"
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