Blackburn squander their last opportunity

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The Independent Online
PHIL SHAW

Blackburn Rovers 0 Legia Warsaw 0

Blackburn's brush with the European elite, a relationship they never embraced whole-heartedly, will not be extended beyond the first phase of the Champions' League. This draw at Ewood Park ended a run of three defeats, but even in the unlikely event of their winning the final two Group B fixtures, results against Legia mean they cannot overtake last night's opponents.

Incredibly, Alan Shearer had the best opportunity of the game in the final minute. Maciej Szczesny denied him at point-blank range, and Blackburn's ill-starred odyssey was over.

News of Spartak Moscow's rout of Rosenborg, coupled with Blackburn's recent improved form, helped to generate a surprisingly upbeat mood among the faithful. The atmosphere initially inspired a positive response from the home side, with Shearer the inevitable focus of their threatening movements.

Perhaps equally predictably, it was from set-pieces that Blackburn came closest to a first-half breakthrough, the first opening arriving in the eighth minute. Legia failed to clear a corner, and when the ball was returned Shearer's back-header reached Colin Hendry six yards out. The Scot's volley was fiercely struck, but straight at Szczesny, while two later headers by Hendry narrowly cleared the crossbar.

Legia soon served notice of their counter-attacking potential. Leszek Pisz, whose ability to find space and hit damaging passes was reminiscent of that displayed by Auxerre's Corentin Martins at Nottingham the previous evening, released Jacek Bednarz on the left. Although his low cross fell invitingly for Tomasz Wieszczycki, he mysteriously elected to lay the ball off to a worse-placed colleague. Jerzy Podbrozny, Legia's match-winner in Poland a fortnight earlier, connected well enough only for Tim Flowers to dive and parry the shot.

Shearer, taking David Batty's centre first-time on the volley, then came within inches of a goal, though it was apparent that Ray Harford needed to devise ways of pressuring the stand-in sweeper, Zbigniew Mandziejewicz, whose poise ensured that the suspended Jacek Zielinski was hardly missed.

Lars Bohinen might have done the job, but he is ineligible, and the only half-time change saw Podbrozny withdrawn from the fray. Bohinen's deputy, Paul Warhurst, hooked a long-range shot over, but he was having enough trouble escaping the attentions of Marcin Jalocha without being able to get forward and ruffle the libero's composure.

The signs were there, particularly when Szczesny weakly punched out a centre he could have caught one-handed, that Legia might succumb to the aerial strength of Hendry or Shearer. But Blackburn struggled to set up the requisite stream of crosses, and would have been embarrassed on the break had Grzegorz Lewandowski not fired feebly wide on the hour.

The introduction of a less than fully fit Graeme Le Saux was an indication of Blackburn's desperation, yet it had the effect of lifting spirits. Almost immediately, Shearer nearly forced Radoslaw Michalski into an own goal.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Pearce, Hendry, Kenna; Ripley, Warhurst (Le Saux, 60), Sherwood, Batty; Shearer, Newell (Sutton, 74).

Legia Warsaw (1-2-5-2): Szczesny; Mandziejewicz; Jozwiak, Michalski; Lewandowski, Pisz, Jalocha (Mosar, 64), Wieszczycki, Bednarz; Staniek, Podbrozny (Kucharski, h-t).

Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).

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