IF Lucas Neill ends up quitting Blackburn Rovers in the January transfer window then at least he will leave behind a lasting legacy.

The Australian international's late goal here ensured Mark Hughes' side will avoid the big guns from the Champions League when the UEFA Cup resumes in the New Year.

And on a personal level, Neill may also have silenced some of the critics who had started to turn against him.

The 28-year-old defender, who seems destined to join Liverpool next month, was booed by a small minority of fans during Saturday's defeat to Newcastle United.

Angered by the Aussie's refusal to sign a new contract, some supporters began to question the wisdom of Hughes' decision to hand him the captain's armband.

However, if those dissenters wanted to see an outward sign of Neill's commitment then they got it here as he smashed home the goal that sent Rovers soaring to the top of UEFA Group E.

The clock was showing 92 minutes when David Bentley swung over a speculative cross from wide on the right.

What happened next was sheer comic-strip stuff as Neill emerged from a crowded penalty box, took the ball down on his chest, and then belted a right-foot shot past rookie keeper Johan Lapeyre with all the aplomb of a proven striker.

As Ewood erupted, Neill then ran the length of the pitch and cupped his ear in the direction of the Blackburn End, before punching the air in a celebration that was packed with emotion.

It remains to be seen whether Neill will still be here or not when Rovers take part in the last 32 in February.

But if he isn't, then at least he's left the fans with a farewell present to remember him by.

Rovers needed a win to secure top spot in the group and a potentially easier draw in the last 32, but for long periods they struggled to fashion any meaningful chances against a well-drilled Nancy side.

But just when the French thought they had done enough to grab the point that would have seen them finish top on goals scored, Neill popped up in the nick of time.

With qualification to the knockout stages already secured, it was no surprise to see both managers fielding experimental line-ups.

Rovers chief Hughes made six changes from the side that started Saturday's game with Newcastle.

Among those coming in was Andy Todd, who made his start since the opening week of the season, while young striker Matt Derbyshire was handed his full senior debut - a reward, perhaps, for a lively cameo against the Magpies at the weekend.

Nancy, meanwhile, fielded a similarly understrength side. Their keeper, Johan Lapeyre, had never previously played a professional game before last night!

Still, it was the Frenchmen, roared' on by their 39 supporters, who made the brighter start, and their Brazilian striker Kim went in search of an early penalty when he threw himself theatrically following a challenge by Brad Friedel, but the Austrian referee Gerald Lehner correctly pointed for a corner instead.

Friedel then had to react sharply to repel a stinging drive from Frederic Biancalani following a partially cleared corner.

It was far from one-way traffic, though, during the opening skirmishes.

Neill, who retained the captaincy despite those boos at the weekend, strode purposefully into midfield before releasing Derbyshire with a beautifully weighted throughball.

The young striker comfortably outstripped the Nancy defence, but Lapeyre denied him a debut goal by saving bravely with his feet.

As the action ebbed and flowed, Nancy drew on the darker arts in a feeble attempt to win' a penalty.

Having been warned once for diving, Kim tried the same trick again following a brush with Jay McEveley, but Mr Lehner refused to be hoodwinked.

Then, moments later, strike-partner Issair Dia attempted a repeat performance, prompting the Austrian official to reach for his yellow card.

Rovers were dealt an untimely blow in the 28th minute when Todd picked up an injury, so Eddie Nolan, another product of the club's Academy, was summoned from the bench for his debut.

As Rovers readjusted, Nancy should have capitalised right on the stroke of half-time when Kim beat Neill in a foot race, leaving him one-on-one with Friedel.

The Brazilian tried to pick his spot with a measured shot into the far corner, but it struck the base of the post and bounced back out to Michael Chretien, whose follow-up effort was brilliantly blocked by McEveley.

Rovers emerged for the second half knowing they needed to regain a foothold and, for a brief moment, it looked as though they might.

Sergio Peter hurdled a challenge on the left and whipped over a deep cross towards the far post where Derbyshire was lurking menacingly, but somehow Biancalani got a decisive touch and put the ball out for a corner.

Nancy continued to look the more dangerous side going forward.

Pascal Berenguer had a shot booted off the line by Neill, then Benjamin Gavanon forced a sharp save out of Friedel with a venomous free kick.

Gavanon also tried his luck with an audacious effort from fully 40 yards that almost caught Friedel off guard.

At the opposite end, Bentley nearly conjured up a repeat of his stunning strike against Salzburg with a dipping volley, but Lapeyre just managed to get a fingertip to it.

With time running out, Hughes threw on Benni McCarthy and Morten Gamst Pedersen in one last throw of the dice.

But the winner came from a different source. It was the captain's night.