Even after a disturbed night of sleep the horrible empty feeling remains after witnessing Rovers excruciating exit from the UEFA Cup. A goal-less draw was enough for Leverkusen but a poor reflection on the game and the tie as a whole.
Mark Hughes made four changes with all the expected faces returning, the most notable of which was Morten Gamst Pedersen and it was he who went closest early on.
In the lashing rain neither side could gain any early rhythm especially as Leverkusen demonstrated their negative tactics from the offset.
However, Pedersen was in the mood for the spectacular. He was felled in the Leverkusen half after five minutes and promptly lined up a shot. He wasn`t deterred by the 40 yard distance from goal and consequently whipped a vicious free-kick inches over the bar with Hans-Jorg Butt beaten.
He tried a similar effort a few moments later that again, narrowly missed the top corner.
Leverkusen were out to stifle Rovers and they were successful early on. Hughes` men could not engineer any rhythm or sharp passing, generally having to resort to pumping long balls forward for the strikers to chase.
However, some neat play from David Dunn on 25 minutes released Matt Derbyshire. He beat Juan to the ball, who appeared to trip Derbyshire. The ball rolled loose but was picked up by Gamst. He cleverly tricked his way into the area and found Benni McCarthy who looked odds on to score once he had turned his marker in the six yard box.
However, the defender got a desperate toe on the ball, just enough to divert it agonizingly wide for a corner. It was starting to feel like it wasn`t going to be Rovers` night.
On the half hour mark the referee set his tone for his bumbling display. Rovers were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out that Dunn tried to take quickly. His ball put Warnock through on goal but the referee called play back, vehemently informing the Rovers players to wait for the whistle. What followed was a shambles. The wall was not ten yards back and the referee bizarrely allowed the Leverkusen players to encroach. Nothing came of the chance.
The rest of the half was played out in a frustrating manner. Leverkusen casually stroked the ball around the back-line as Rovers sat back not wanting to commit too much. Bernd Schneider did graze a post with an excellently executed free-kick, that the referee deemed to be a corner, but there was little else worthy of mention.
The players ambled off at half-time still needing that goal and definitely upping the tempo.
The second half was under way to the thumping of the Ewood drums and chants of ‘get into em` as a packed crowd tried to stir Rovers from a first half slumber.
Rovers came out with more urgency and a more direct approach. Twice Gamst was found out wide left and his centres from the by-line had the Leverkusen defence scurrying to clear their lines.
On 56 minutes another chance came to Rovers, this time it was David Dunn. His stooping header from Bentley`s centre forced the ‘keeper to make a splendid one-handed save to his left.
As the half wore on Rovers were noticeably desperate. Tugay was replaced by Shabani Nonda but just a few moments later the home side squandered their best chance.
A whipped ball into the area by Gamst presented McCarthy with a clear opening six yards out and unmarked. However, he failed to make a telling contact on the ball and it zipped across the goal and out for a goal kick.
As the game approached the final quarter things started to boil over and the referee started to make some questionable decisions. Firstly a number of throw-ins and corners were not awarded to Rovers after the ball had deflected off Leverkusen players and then the referee failed to issue cards to the opposition following cynical fouls.
It all exploded into a massive ruckus with players being pushed and pulled all over the place. Barbarez was doing his best to be the war victim, severely wounded by brushing against a Rovers player. Eventually, once the kafuffle had dispersed the referee bizarrely booked Warnock, who had little or nothing to do with it.
Rovers dusted themselves off and continued to plug away. Then came the moment for a hero, a mantle Shabani Nonda wasted.
A clever ball over the top by Dunn released Nonda with McCarthy and Derbyshire flanking him, but with all the time in the world and no immediate pressure Nonda embarrassingly scooped the ball over a stranded ‘keeper and well wide. It was a timid effort that belied his confusion over how to take the chance. As the ball trickled wide so did Rovers` chances.
It was an agonizing night for a side who have done so well in this years competition to dispel past demons. Rovers will feel hard done by due to poor refereeing and wasted opportunities. They just needed a little more luck out there as the ball just wouldn`t fall for them.
Had nothing to do.
Got forward well and was solid defensively, bar one slip.
Plenty of industry and endeavour.
Commanding as ever. Some excellent tackles.
Plays better alongside Nelsen and this was evidenced again.
Worked hard and created some openings.
Great to have him back.
Couldn’t really influence the game as he would have liked.
Still working his way back but showed more signs of the quality to come.
He looks decidedly off colour these days. Missed a great chance.
Worked very hard and was a nuisance for the Leverkusen defence.
Hero last time, but I’ll avoid making him the villain this time. Did miss the best chance of the night.
Didn’t influence the game in his ten minutes.