Van Persie's bloody coup

Captivating cameo by two-goal Dutch master sets up the final consolation as Todd risks wrath of FA
Click to follow

Blackburn Rovers' longest FA Cup run for 45 years ended in acrimony yesterday in the city where it began back in January, but the repercussions are not over yet. From the unpromising beginnings of a 1-1 draw against Cardiff, Mark Hughes' side had reached their first semi-final since 1960 with a mixture of solid defence and opportunistic attack.

Blackburn Rovers' longest FA Cup run for 45 years ended in acrimony yesterday in the city where it began back in January, but the repercussions are not over yet. From the unpromising beginnings of a 1-1 draw against Cardiff, Mark Hughes' side had reached their first semi-final since 1960 with a mixture of solid defence and opportunistic attack.

In yesterday's defeat by Arsenal, the physical determination underlying it was taken too far, with three yellow cards before half-time for fouls on Patrick Vieira and an incident involving their captain, Andy Todd, right at the end that will be investigated one way or another by the Football Association. As Robin van Persie turned away to celebrate his second goal in three minutes during a remarkable appearance as a late substitute, he was caught in the face by Todd, whose elbow was unnaturally high. If the referee, Steve Dunn, does not mention the clash, FA compliance officers will doubtless study it carefully on video-tape.

Todd, the son of the immaculate former England international defender Colin Todd, was involved in off-the-pitch incidents that led to his leaving two clubs, after allegedly striking Bolton's coach Phil Brown and the Charlton goalkeeper Dean Kiely. "He'll get the benefit of the doubt because it's difficult to prove he did it on purpose," said Arsenal's manager Arsène Wenger, who felt that Blackburn had targeted Vieira with their overly physical approach. "We have a few bruises, that's for sure," he said. "Blackburn decided to stop us playing at any cost and sometimes were over the edge of the rules. We had to keep the ball on the ground, play with patience and try to get them so fatigued that they couldn't kick us any more."

Van Persie appears to have escaped with nothing worse than bleeding. Ironically, the one added injury problem for the Premiership game between the top two at Chelsea on Wednesday is Fredrik Ljungberg's recurrence of a hip problem. "I felt the referee let them do a little too much at the start of the game," Wenger added. Of the three yellow cards Dunn showed to Arsenal, two were for dissent.

Blackburn's manager, Mark Hughes, was as defensive as his team had been, insisting that his players had neither gone over the top nor targeted the Arsenal captain. "We don't need to be criticised for the way we tried to compete," he said. "If Arsène Wenger's upset, maybe it's with the time-wasting or something. Vieira is a big man and he has to expect people will compete against him. Maybe he has to be a bit more robust to resist tackles."

Apart from Van Persie's flourish, it was a dour game, watched by a crowd of only 52,000, Blackburn having sold barely half of their ticket allocation. Sir Alex Ferguson, who brings his Manchester United here today for the other semi-final against Newcastle, has already criticised the FA for using this venue.

Comments