Hubris halts Blackburn

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The Independent Online
GLENN MOORE

The most frustrating part of Blackburn Rovers' Champions' League campaign is not so much their performances but their stubborn refusal to learn.

Twice they have been comfortably outplayed - against Spartak Moscow and, on Wednesday, Rosenborg Trondheim - only to emerge apparently convinced that they have just had an off day. While self-belief is an important element in any successful player's make-up, so is self-awareness. Yet, on Wednesday night, Alan Shearer insisted that Rovers were as good as Trondheim, that the 2-1 result did not accurately reflect the teams' abilities.

He was right - but only to the extent that it should have been 4-1. Rovers were disjointed without the ball and short of ideas with it. Playing three central strikers was naive. It deprived Rovers of numbers in midfield and width in attack.

It is not as if Trondheim were a particularly good side. The first half- hour was more chumps than Champions' League. The likes of Ajax and Juventus will not be examining the results of Group B with any great concern. Even Spartak Moscow, the section's best side, are some way short of that standard. It does not say much for the Carling Premiership.

The key, as ever, was Rovers' inability to hold possession. They did make some attempt to adapt their game, but once the ball was moved into midfield David Batty and Tim Sherwood had few options to play with, and even less likelihood of realising them. In the end they played neither the passing nor the hoofing game, but fell between the two.

Egil Olsen, who manages the Norwegian national team, said they should have stuck to the long-ball game. However, as Norway's World Cup proved, such a limited style only works against limited opposition. One former Liverpool player said after the match that, during Liverpool's years of European glory, you could waste half-a-dozen good chances in training and not receive a fraction of the "bollocking" dished out for wasting possession. If this is the practice at Rovers, it is not apparent in their play. Nor do they seem to spend much time honing their technique - not that this failing is restricted to Rovers. Eric Cantona's desire to practice his skills after training came as a shock to several Manchester United players. Yet, as any number of banal players' diaries reveal, they are not short of time to practice.

It is never too late. "It is an attitude of mind," Ray Harford, the Rovers manager, said. "They need to want to be better, but some players think 'I have a million [pounds] in the bank, why bother to work harder?' "

The next examination of Rovers' technique will be in Poland, against Legia Warsaw, in three weeks' time. It is unlikely to gain a wide audience - ITV will probably cover Rangers' match with Juventus. Judging by Rovers' football so far it will be a blessing for all concerned.

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