BLACKBURN Rovers put their manager Graeme Souness through a tortuous two minutes in Bulgaria last night, as they contrived to throw away a three-goal lead against CSKA Sofia in their UEFA Cup first round tie before hanging on for a 3-3 draw to proceed on the away goals rule.
Rovers, who drew the first leg 1-1 at Ewood Park, appeared to be cruising to an emphatic win following goals from David Thompson, Egil Ostenstad and Damien Duff within the opening hour.
But complacency swept over the Premiership side, and the Bulgarians mounted a spirited fightback, pulling two goals back through Emil Gargorov and Agnaldo.
Gargorov then set up a dramatic finale by hauling his side level on aggregate from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, before Souness’ side managed to hold on grimly to reach the second round, although the Bulgarians’ quest for a sensational win was not helped by the injury-time dismissal of Velizar Dimitrov for a lunge on Thompson.
Ipswich also emerged from a hazardous trip to the continent with their UEFA Cup hopes in- tact, although their 1-0 win against Sartid Smederevo was marred by racist taunts from the Yugoslav crowd.
Ipswich striker Marcus Bent confirmed that he had been racially abused. "It was a hostile crowd," said Bent after scoring the game’s only goal from the penalty spot after nine minutes.
"There was a lot of racist abuse, a lot of spitting when you went near the crowd. But the boys dealt with it, I dealt with it and all that really matters is that we came away with a 1-0 win."
Bent’s goal gave the Division 1 club, who qualified for the tournament through their fair play ranking, a 2-1 aggregate victory in the first round tie.
The European governing body UEFA may now investigate the matter having already declared its intention this season to clamp down on racist abuse directed at players.
Ipswich manager George Burley hopes the confidence taken from another European away win can help revive their poor start to the domestic season.
The Suffolk club have now won four of their five matches away from Portman Road since returning to Europe for the first time in two decades.
Though their involvement in European competition has caused havoc with the early season fixture programme - they are fourth bottom in Division 1 with three games in hand on their rivals - Burley believes this win against a technically-gifted team can provide a platform towards a promotion push by his team.
"We enjoy being in Europe and we want more," said Burley, whose team were provided with a fillip when Slavoljub Kizic shoved Bent in the back in the ninth minute.
That moment of madness ultimately led to a victory which might have reached landslide proportions but for some poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Dragan Zilic in the second half.
Of the penalty award by Spanish referee Luis Medina, Burley added: "It was a blatant push, the referee saw it and gave it, he was perfectly correct in his decision."
Meanwhile, there was trouble in Tbilisi where spectators hurled bottles at Slovan Liberec goalkeeper Antonin Kinsky and three policemen were injured as the Czech visitors defeated Dinamo Tbilisi 1-0 to reach the second round.
Martin Zboncak scored the only goal of the match in the 64th minute after a pass from Juraj Ancic to give Slovan a 4-2 aggregate victory.
In Hungary, a 61st minute goal by midfielder Selim Benachour gave Paris St Germain a 1-0 victory over Ujpest and completed a 4-0 win on aggregate, but fellow-French side Lorient went out on away goals to Denizlispor of Turkey, despite winning the second leg 3-1 at home.