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Soccer Scene: Celtic-Blackburn Rovers a UEFA classic

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

While the Bhoys thumped Hearts, 4-1, on the road at Tynecastle, the Rovers, at home in Ewood Park, destroyed Newcastle United, 5-2. Confidence in both camps is growing at the moment. This UEFA fixture of two very good footballing sides promises to deliver a masterpiece. Just to add a bit of salt, it is also the SPL vs. EPL, which some are calling it the Battle of Britain. A look at the Hoops and Rovers weekend games whets the appetite. We could be in for a feast of classy and clever soccer when the two clubs meet at the end of the month in their European campaign.
On Sunday, Celtic had to beat Hearts after Rangers opened a 4-point lead, beating Motherwell, 3 nil. The Hoops did not disappoint, as they wasted no time in settling matters early on against Hearts. Within 10 minutes, Chris Sutton and Stilian Petrov had the bhoys well on their way to victory. With 8 minutes to go to the half, Henrik Larsson’s killer instinct put Hearts out of their misery, making it 4-nil and, effectively, game over. Hoops boss Martin O’Neill was very upbeat when he described the 4-1 win over Hearts as a “top display, one of their best of the season — that was scintillating stuff.”
Usually O’Neill would be upset for letting in a goal at the 89th minute, but the Gary Wales consolation effort for Hearts was overshadowed by Celtic’s performance. In fact, O’Neill admitted they “took the foot of the gas a wee bit in the second half.”
Hearts manager Craig Levein spelled out very clearly what’s in store for Blackburn. “We were beaten by a good side they passed the ball very well and they were very strong,” he said. “They punished us for giving the ball away in our own half.”
While Celtic begin to play some fancy football, they are becoming very much an aggressive outfit with a no-nonsense attitude. An attitude that was perhaps missing early on in the season particularly in the Champions League. No stranger to the Celtic way is Blackburn’s manager, Graeme Souness. The hard-hitting Scot has been involved in many an Old Firm Clash. He was busy polishing up his Rovers’ attack against Newcastle on the weekend and hit United for five.
Like the Celtic triumph against Hearts in the SPL, Rovers set the tone within the first 10 minutes against Newcastle in their EPL fixture. David Dunn hit a double, putting the Rovers in control in the early stages. It wasn’t looking good for Newcastle when Nikos Dabizas was sent off in the 4th minute. Newcastle needed something special to get back into a game where they were looking second best. And special it was when Alan Shearer rocked Blackburn with goals on each side of the half to put the game on level terms.
Suddenly Rovers were no longer cruising, as Shearer looked more dangerous. He had just scored 301 goals in club football. Hearts stopped at Ewood Park when Shearer scored again, only to be ruled offside. But Rovers’ Martin Taylor was to put a stop to any comeback by Shearer and Newcastle with goals in the 55th and 74th minutes.
While Souness claimed his Rovers “played wonderful football,” he did admit they got “sloppy,” but nevertheless was pleased they found “another gear.” Newcastle’s Bobby Robson believed his side was equal to Blackburn in the middle of the game when Rovers were “creaking.” Souness knows Rovers do let teams back into games and his aim is not to throw away points. Shooting from the bottom half of the table to the top half by beating Newcastle will be just what the doctor ordered to boost belief in the Rovers club.
Souness hailed ex-Blackburn player Alan Shearer, calling him the greatest English forward he had seen. He may soon be hailing that he has also seen the greatest Swedish forward, Henrik Larsson, after Oct. 31. Rovers will also have to contend with another former Blackburn player in Chris Sutton who relishes the UEFA cup-tie.
“It’s a tough draw and Blackburn has got many good players,” said Celtic’s Sutton. “There will be an extra edge because of Graeme Souness.”
For Sutton and Souness, former Rangers, the UEFA cup will be a trip down memory lane. For Celtic’s Neil Lennon, it’s a chance to prove his team can live with EPL opposition. But Lennon was quick to remind his Celts that Rovers have quality in Damien Duff, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Tugay. Lennon also reminded Rovers how much his boss, Martin O’Neill, will be up for a chance to play a premiership team once again after his success with Leicester City in the EPL.
There is so much to play for in this potential UEFA classic, but in the meantime Rovers have to play Arsenal at Hihgbury Road and Celtic are away to Dunfermline. Arsenal will want to make amends after Arsene Wenger said his Gunners were “shocked” by a 2-1 loss to Everton. Rovers will be up against it and Souness cannot ask for a tougher game before his return to Glasgow. Celtic and Martin O’Neill are expected to handle Dunfermline with no problems, with Blackburn very much on their minds. Celtic will want to redeem themselves after their CL exit. The bhoys will be desperate to beat a premier league team and to stay in European competition.

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