On a historic night at Ewood Park, the fans` villain deliverd a parting present for Rovers. An accomplished finished from Lucas Neill just inside the area ensured that a youthful Rovers side would finish on top of Group E, maintaining all of their home records this season.
On a subdued evening in front of a pitiful crowd of 12,568, despite brilliant concessions from the club, Rovers and Nancy played out a timid affair that bore greater resemblance to a pre-season friendly.
Both managers made changes, Mark Hughes making no less than six alterations to ensure Rovers fielded a youthful looking side.
The game began at a slow pace often interrupted by a succession of corners awarded to Nancy. Brad Friedel had to be alert on a couple of occasions early on to deny the wily Kim. Nancy`s impressive Brazilian attacker first went through on goal only to see his effort pushed away by Friedel and the giant American had to be at his best again shortly effort to divert a drilled free-kick.
Rovers, with the youthful additions of Sergio Peter, Paul Gallagher, Matt Derbyshire and Jay McEveley and later Eddie Nolan, struggled to find any rhythm but did muster a chance for Derbyshire. He charged through on goal but was thwarted by another debutant at the other end, Lapeyre.
The first half failed to move out of first gear except for the odd injection of pace provided by Kim. He burst clear after accelerating through the gears on half time and shot past Friedel but was this time denied by the post.
The half drew to a close. It served as a perfect work out for Rovers youth academy but also highlighted the fact that most of the young protégés are not ready for the excursions of Premiership football.
The second half began at a faster pace with David Bentley making his presence felt. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and almost scored with a wonderful piece of skill and a long distance drive that was superbly tipped round the post by Lapeyre. That seemed to stir Rovers and rouse an otherwise anonymous crowd.
As Rovers began to exert themselves as more of an attacking force, the visitors continued to pose a threat on the break, particularly through the pace of front-men Kim and Dia. But for some alert last ditch defending from Lucas Neill, Nancy would have taken the lead.
That narrow escape was evidence enough for Hughes to make some changes. On came Benni McCarthy and Morten Gamst Pedersen to replace Paul Gallagher and Sergio Peter, who had looked impressive.
Their influence was felt almost instantaneously. A wonderful sweeping move almost presented Gamst with a chance but the Nancy defence cleaned up first.
Nancy then began to play the waiting game, wasting as much time as possible as they counted down the clock, content to play on the break when an opportunity arose but more importantly, content to claim the draw.
Rovers continued to rally and one individual, who ahs come in for a lot of stick recently, had other ideas. Following a whipped ball into the box by Jay McEveley Rovers were awarded a corner. It was drilled across by Bentley but was immediately cleared. The ball came back to Bentley who once again looked to test the Nancy rearguard with another ball into the danger zone. It fell appetizingly for Lucas Neill who controlled it with his chest before rasping a low drive neatly into the corner of the goal.
Rovers had scored with just seconds remaining. It is a goal that could have great financial benefits and help improve future performances/results. If this is Neill`s last goal for the club then it will serve as an excellent parting gift. Rovers will now avoid any of the Champions League rejects and will fancy their chances of progressing, at least one stage further.
Some excellent stops and the clean sheet will serve as a confidence boost.
Solid, aware and a great goal that could have huge financial benefits for Rovers in future.
Caught a couple of times, something that he still hasn’t eradicated from his game but looked solid generally.
Decent performance, although his lack of pace was evident tonight.
Had little time to impress after being taken off injured early on.
A better performance from a player who revelled in the fact he was one of the senior professionals out there.
Looked good in bursts. Still rough round the edges but there is a diamond in there.
Typical Axe display
He’s a livewire who will have certainly benefitted from the full 90mins. Looked hungry for goals too. His positioning isn’t bad either.
Was expecting a little more from the talented Scot.
Replaced Todd after 28mins. Looked comfortable and generally did well.
Made a difference by just being back on the pitch. Appears to have his swagger back.
If ever there was a doubt over his influence on this time it will surely have disappeared.