Blackburn's hopes all but extinguished

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The Independent Online
reports from Warsaw

Legia Warsaw 1 Blackburn Rovers 0

It is British Week in the Polish capital, but it was not Blackburn's night in the Wojska Polskiego Stadium. Jerzy Podbrozny's header midway through the first half, which prompted the Legia Warsaw supporters to light fireworks, all but snuffed out their Champions' League flame.

While there are still nine points to play for, and two games to come at Ewood Park, Blackburn revealed little here to suggest that their European Cup odyssey will extend beyond the final Group B fixture in December. Their only consolation last night, and it was slender indeed, was that Rosenborg did not also open up a six-point gap on them.

A third consecutive defeat in the competition - their eighth in 14 games this season - was more galling for the fact that Legia were arguably the weakest side they have encountered in the section. Even a desperate siege of the home goal in the closing stages failed to produce a moment of genuine menace, and Legia spurned two easy chances on the break to embellish their victory.

Ray Harford's tactical acumen was not, on this occasion, found wanting. In the event, his already limited options were further reduced by the non-arrival of Stuart Ripley, his only natural winger, whose wife had lost the baby they were expecting. Ironically, Blackburn will come across few wider pitches wherever this ill-starred season leads them.

Legia had no such problems building down the flanks. David Batty, Ripley's nominal replacement, had his work cut out stopping the touchline surges of Jacek Bednarz, whose balding pate was not the only thing that made him resemble a latter-day Lato. Bednarz fired wide inside two minutes, and then overhit his centre after a wretched back-pass by the befuddled Batty.

Unsurprisingly, Legia's 26th-minute winner emanated from the same wing, the difference being that Cezary Kucharski was the player who created the opportunity. In a jinking run, he beat Henning Berg twice and Ian Pearce for good measure before drilling a low cross into the six-yard box. The ball spiralled into the air off the boot of Colin Hendry, Podbrozny reacting fastest as it came down.

On the rare occasions Blackburn worked the ball into the Legia area, it typified their fortunes that Batty, scarcely renowned for his predatory prowess, was the player in a scoring position. One header, from an Alan Shearer cross, was too high, while on another occasion his attempted header served only to take the ball off Chris Sutton's foot.

As ever, Hendry cut an imposing figure in the heart of Blackburn's defence. The Scot was also pushed into attack as Blackburn, belatedly sensing that Legia were nothing special, at last mounted something resembling pressure.

Harford said: "There's still hope. If it comes down to the last game, we're still in with a shout. I was quite pleased with the shape tonight - we looked like the Blackburn of old, very rigid in our shape and difficult to beat."

As an exercise in self-delusion, it was definitive.

Legia Warsaw (1-2-5-2): Szczesny; Zielinski; Jozwiak, Mandziejewicz; Lewandowski, Pisz, Staniek, Michalski, Bednarz; Kucharski; Podbrozny.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Pearce, Hendry, Kenna; Batty, Warhurst (Newell, 82), Sherwood, Holmes; Shearer, Sutton.

Referee: A Frisk (Sweden).

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