MANCHESTER: Defending champions Blackburn Rovers held Manchester United to a 1-1 Old Trafford draw to swing the advantage their way after the first-leg of their English League Cup semi-final on Tuesday.
A 58th-minute Paul Scholes goal was cancelled out three minutes later by David Thompson as Blackburn, who beat United 1-0 at Ewood Park in the league last month, again matched their illustrious neighbours.
With the away goals rule coming into play after extra time in the second leg, it gives the advantage to Graeme Souness’ team, who won the Cup with a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur last year to earn a place in the UEFA Cup.
United have had no need for that route into Europe in recent years and consequently have shown little interest in the League Cup, often fielding reserve teams.
However, manager Alex Ferguson has been keener this season and, bar the injured Roy Keane, picked his first-choice side on Tuesday.
They edged a tight first half and should have taken the lead at the end of it when Ruud van Nistelrooy shot tamely at Brad Friedel when clean through.
The big Dutch striker, who has been out of touch of late, missed another good chance in the 54th minute when he side-footed badly over the bar from five metres out following a precise low cross by David Beckham.
United did go ahead four minutes later however, as the visiting defence failed to clear another low Beckham cross, which was also spilled by Friedel into the path of Scholes, who scored for the third successive game.
Blackburn equalised three minutes later as former United winger Keith Gillespie crossed for unmarked midfielder Thompson to head past Fabien Barthez.
England defender Wes Brown then headed a Gillespie cross-shot from under his bar after former United strike duo Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke had caused problems in the home defence.
Both sides had penalty claims refused in the last five minutes while, in injury time, 17-year-old defender James McEveley saved Blackburn when he calmly chested an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shot off the line.
The only downside for Blackburn was the late booking of Australian midfielder Lucas Neil for diving, which will rule him out of the second leg and which was a decision that took the edge off the night for Souness.
“I thought it was a penalty, but whether it was or not there was no way Lucas dived and I’m going to ask (referee) Uriah Rennie to have a look at it,” said the Scot.
Otherwise, however, he was happy with the result coming just four days after Blackburn’s 4-1 away victory over Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round.
“We played well tonight and it would have been unfair if we hadn’t taken anything from the game,” said Souness.
“I thought we coped with what they threw at us and we kept the ball well at times against a very good team. We’ve kept the tie alive.” – Reuters