Fri, Jan 27, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Blackburn boss lashes out over tunnel rumpus

AFP , MANCHESTER

Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy, right, keeps the ball from Blackburn's Lucas Neill during their English League Cup semifinal soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

Mark Hughes has accused Rio Ferdinand of sparking the Old Trafford tunnel fracas that marred Manchester United's League Cup semi-final win over Blackburn on Wednesday.

Ferdinand clashed with Blackburn's controversy-prone midfielder Robbie Savage as the two sides left the pitch at half-time, triggering a stampede of players and coaches down the tunnel.

What transpired afterwards is unclear, but Blackburn boss Hughes had no doubt about who was to blame.

The incident was not caught by the television cameras.

"It started because Rio Ferdinand decided to clip Robbie Savage as they were leaving the pitch," the former United forward insisted.

"Why he would do that I don't really know. There was certainly no need for it. Robbie then ran after him to ask him why the hell he had done that and everyone ran after to make sure nothing else happened," he said.

While the players may escape punishment for whatever happened in the tunnel, Hughes could find himself in hot water after an outburst over the performance of referee Graham Poll.

"Some referees enjoy the celebrity status a bit too much," he said. "I think Graham Poll was under the impression that 61,000 people came here to see him."

Ferdinand had reason to be frustrated at half-time as United had allowed Blackburn back into the tie, poor defending allowing Steven Reid to cancel out Ruud van Nistelrooy's early poacher's strike.

In the end, the home side prevailed fairly comfortably, Louis Saha's fifth goal in the tournament, six minutes after the break, giving them a 2-1 win and sending them into a final meeting with Wigan 3-2 on aggregate.

It would have been a much more convincing victory for United but for an outstanding display by Blackburn's American goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who won a glowing tribute from United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

"Once again their goalkeeper has been absolutely fantastic," said the Scot. "In the last four matches against us he must have made 40 saves against us and tonight again he has made three absolutely outstanding saves."

Next month's final appearance will offer limited consolation for United's early exit from the Champions League this season and the fact that Chelsea have the Premiership title virtually sewn up.

But Wayne Rooney underlined the importance of United earning a crack at their first piece of silverware since Malcolm Glazer's purchase of the club last year.

"Any Cup final is a great final. We went into this competition to win it and hopefully we can do that," said the England forward, who made both of United's goals.

The first followed one of his trademark drives at the opposing back four, which resulted in defender Michael Gray fluffing an attempted interception into the path of van Nistelrooy, who toe-poked the ball past Friedel.

Even with Ryan Giggs forced off with what looked like hamstring trouble after less than a quarter of an hour, United continued to control proceedings with a considerable degree of comfort.

But the home side's composure was shattered by the equalizer Blackburn managed to conjure from nothing in the 32nd minute.

United's back four failed to deal decisively with a cross from Gray from the left and, after Kieran Richardson's attempted clearance clattered into Wes Brown, Reid was able to fire his shot under the body of United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

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