Roger Federer, Basle's most famous celebrity supporter, was mysteriously absent in freezing East Lancashire last night. Shame, because the late goal by Tugay that set Blackburn on their way to a place in the last 32 of the Uefa Cup had the virtuosity of a match-winning topspin lob on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Blackburn need only a point from their remaining Group E fixtures, at Feyenoord and home to Nancy, to be sure of progressing. Yet a barren stalemate looked likely before the Tugay took the ball on his chest, with his back to goal, as the contest entered its final 15 minutes.
Turning sharply, the 36-year-old Turkish midfielder breezed past Mladen Petric before curling his first goal of the season past the flat-footed Argentine, Franco Costanzo, from more than 30 yards.
"Absolutely fantastic," purred Blackburn's manager, Mark Hughes. "He continues to defy the advancing years and is playing with a smile on his face, influencing every game he plays. The goal came at just the right time, too."
Christian Gross, the former Tottenham manager now in charge of the Swiss side, saw it differently. "We weren't concentrating enough in midfield," he said. "You can't just let Tugay have a shot like that."
Until then, as Gross justifiably noted, another veteran, the 35-year-old Brad Friedel, had marked his 100th successive appearance in the home goal by thwarting Basle. Inspired by Tugay, however, Blackburn struck twice more in the final two minutes. Francis Jeffers, a late substitute, collected his first goal in their colours (all red last night) after Reto Zanni was adjudged to have brought down Morten Gamst Pedersen. The former Everton forward dispatched the spot-kick with great gusto, succeeding where Lucas Neill, Jason Roberts and Benni McCarthy had all failed this season.
There was still time for another substitute, Paul Gallagher, to make an impact with a shot in time added on that Costanzo handled like a greasy balloon. McCarthy nipped in to convert the loose ball and give the scoreline a somewhat flattering complexion for Hughes' side.
Their victory was soured, however, by the loss of Robbie Savage, who came off before half-time with a hamstring problem. The midfielder will miss Sunday's visit to Aston Villa.
The game's outcome might have been different but for a combination of Friedel's excellence and Petric's wastefulness. The American pulled off two fine saves from the Croat when the game was goalless.
Before the breakthrough, Blackburn's best chances fell to David Bentley, who skied the ball into a near-deserted Darwen End shortly before the break, and to the on-loan Roma striker Shabani Nonda, who spurned two heading opportunities after the break. The sparse crowd groaned discontentedly. At the end they cheered Blackburn off as if they had won the trophy itself.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Oojer, Khizanishvili, Gray; Bentley, Tugay (Gallagher, 83), Savage (Mokoena, 37), Pedersen; McCarthy, Nonda (Jeffers, 83). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), McEveley, Derbyshire, Peter.
Basle (4-1-3-2): Costanzo; Zanni, Majstorovic, Ba, Chipperfield; Kuzmanovic; Rakitic, Ergic, Sterjovski; Petric, Eduardo. Substitutes not used: Crayton (gk), Nakata, Santos Rodrigues, Burgmeier, Buckley, Berner, Kavelashvili.
Referee: O Oriekhov (Ukraine).Reuse content