Norwegians freeze out ragged Rovers

Rosenborg 2 Blackburn Rovers CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE: Rosenborg's part-timers reduce Harfo rd's men to bystanders while Dortmund twice lead the Scots
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The Independent Online
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The days when English clubs dominated the European Champions' Cup seemed further away than ever last night as Blackburn Rovers stumbled to another embarrassing defeat.

Rovers will argue they were two minutes from gaining their first Champions' League point when they were cruelly beaten by a stunning strike from Staale Stensaas. But that would be deluding themselves as to the true nature of their performance.

Rosenborg, the Norwegian champions, were more fluid and penetrative than Rovers all night. Apart from a 5-minute period, when they were deflated by Mike Newell's 63rd-minute equaliser, they dominated the game.

Ray Harford, the Blackburn manager, admitted: "They were by far the better team. We gave the ball away, our passing was not up to standard and they punished us."

The analysis of his Norwegian counterpart, Nils Arne Eggen, went deeper: "You cannot play that long-ball game," he said. "It is easy to read and easy to stop. When you look at English football, you ask where is the George Best? Where are the skills? We could have had four or five."

Rosenborg took the lead after 27 minutes through Karl-Petter Loken, an oil engineer. They then hit a penalty against the bar and struck the post from open play before Newell shocked them with his first goal for 7 months.

It looked like it might be enough but, after Steffen Iversen had opened up Rovers' right flank - Ian Pearce diving in on the tackle - Stensaas, a carpenter, hammered the ball past Tim Flowers from 20 yards.

Flowers had been peppered with shots throughout the second half as Rovers were overrun in midfield. Their weakness stemmed from a stubborn refusal to adapt to the demands of Europe. Although Harford had talked of playing a flexible five-man defence, with Chris Sutton as sweeper, he was either attempting some kidology or suffered a late change of mind.

In the first half he played Lee Makel in midfield and Newell behind Alan Shearer, with Sutton in attack. Rovers were left devoid of width and movement. In the second he introduced Stuart Ripley and moved Newell to the left. This time Tim Sherwood and David Batty were left outnumbered in midfield.

Flowers had already denied Harald Brattbakk with a reflex save when he was exposed again. This time he was found wanting. A left-wing cross from Mini Jakobsen found Loken unmarked. His mis-hit shot appeared to wrong- foot Flowers and it bobbled in at the near post.

It could have been worse as Pearce then ruined a good tackle on Brattbakk by appearing to pull him down as the striker attempted to get up. Pearce was booked but his anger turned to relief as Jakobsen thundered the spot- kick against the bar.

Rovers hung on as Flowers denied Tron Sultvedt and Jakobsen, then Roar Strand hit the post. Somehow they were still in the game and, on a rare incursion upfield, Shearer headed down a Sherwood free-kick and Newell scored.

The bulk of the 2,000 spectators fell silent as 400 travelling fans celebrated. But then Stensaas intervened and, amid wild jubilation, Blackburn were left to contemplate their inadequacies.

Rosenborg (4-3-3): Rise; Kvarme, Bragstad, Hoftun, Stensaas; Strand (Staurvik, 83), Skammelsrud, Sultvedt; Loken (Iversen, 72), Jakobsen, Brattbakk (Heggem, 90).

Blackburn Rovers (3-5-2): Flowers; Pearce, Sutton, Hendry; Berg, Sherwood (Warhurst, 85), Makel (Ripley, h-t), Batty, Kenna; Shearer, Newell.

Referee: G Benko (Austria).

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