ROVERS produced a magnificent performance to hold FA Cup favourites City to a draw in today’s pulsating third-round tie at an electric Ewood Park.
And if any team deserved to win it was Gary Bowyer’s impressive Championship side.
They fell behind – undeservedly – on the stroke of half-time when they switched off from a corner.
David Silva’s left-wing delivery was flicked on by Edin Dzeko to the unmarked Alvaro Negredo, who turned the ball home from close range.
There were calls for offside.
But they were forgotten 10 minutes after the restart when captain Scott Dann brought Rovers level.
Again it came from a corner, swung in by Ben Marshall, as Rudy Gestede’s powerful, downward header was spilled by Costel Pantilimon in the City goal.
And there was Dann to side-foot home his first goal of the season.
It was a goal which forced a replay, which will take place at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, January 15 (7.45pm).
And, despite their hectic schedule which sees them fighting for glory on four fronts, Manuel Pellegrini’s men will be grateful to get one as they finished a terrific match on the ropes after they had Dedryck Boyata sent off five minutes from time.
All the talk before kick-off centred around Rovers boss Bowyer’s decision to hand fit-again Paul Robinson goalkeeper his first start for the first team since December 7, 2012.
And the former England number one, who is now fully recovered from the blood clot on his lung that threatened his life, certainly did not let his side down.
Robinson was barely tested in the first half.
Rovers, whose rested top scorer Jordan Rhodes started on the bench, kept their shape and discipline to restrict City to little in the opening period and when they won back possession, they used it intelligently.
It was the hard-working hosts who forced the first save of the afternoon when a corner from the excellent Tom Cairney was met by Dann, whose thumping header went straight into the hands of Pantilimon.
The giant Romanian goalkeeper, in for current England number one Joe Hart, was one of seven changes made by Pellegrini to the team which started their 3-2 win at Swansea City on New Year’s Day – a win which meant City remained one point off top spot in the Premier League.
But their line-up still contained players of the calibre of David Silva and it was the wonderfully gifted Spanish playmaker who wasted the best chance before the break when he side-footed over after Boyata – who was his side’s weak link throughout – pulled the ball back across the box.
Rovers responded with an opportunity of their own when a neat passage of play ended with Lee Williamson slipping the ball into the path of Chris Taylor who, from just inside the area, could only blaze over.
Four minutes later and the visitors were in front as Negredo notched from close range to send the 7,000-strong travelling supporters into raptures.
But City's lead was wiped out in the 55th minute when Dann – who pushed Cairney all the way for the man-of-the-match honours – made the most of Pantilimon’s horrible error.
The famous old ground was rocking and Taylor was not too far away after he got in front of Joleon Lescott to meet Jason Lowe’s cross from the right.
But the home fans should have been silenced when Negredo somehow headed wide with the goal at his mercy after Robinson parried a curling Dzeko effort into his path.
Robinson then made a superb stop, down low to his right, from substitute Jesus Navas.
By that stage City boss Pellegrini had also introduced the immense talent of Yaya Toure in a bid to force a winner.
And Jesus Navas should have provided his manager with one after James Milner sent the winger through with just Robinson to beat.
But Rovers also fancied their chances and Bowyer threw on Rhodes and DJ Campbell.
And the two combined, not long after their arrival, when Campbell sent Rhodes clear down the right before powering into the middle to meet Rhodes’ centre and head wide from 12 yards.
If City were not rattled then, well they certainly were after Boyata was booked for the second time for a stupid challenge on Campbell.
Pellegrini swiftly replaced Silva with defender Pablo Zabaleta – a huge compliment to Bowyer and his players.
The tactical switch came just a minute after Cairney had collected a Campbell cutback and curled a brilliant left-footed shot inches past the post.
Although Rhodes chipped over, that was the closest Rovers came to claiming what would have been an incredible victory.
Rovers: Robinson, Henley, Dann, Hanley, Spurr, Marshall (Campbell 81), Williamson (King 64), Lowe, Taylor, Cairney, Gestede (Rhodes 81). Subs not used: Eastwood, Kilgallon, Rochina, Judge.
Goal: Dann 55.
City: Pantilimon, Boyata, Nastasic, Lescott, Clichy, Milner, Fernandinho (Yaya Toure 64), Javi Garcia, Silva (Zabaleta 88), Negredo (Jesus Navas 75), Dzeko. Subs: Hart, Kompany, Kolarov, Lopes.
Booked: Nastasic, Boyata.
Sent off: Boyata 85.
Goal: Negredo 45.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 18, 813.