Tony Mowbray’s men continued their unbeaten start in the league, in 2019, by winning their third Championship game in a row – something they haven’t done since March 2015 – as they put a defensively fragile Ipswich Town side to the sword, on a chilly afternoon at Ewood Park.
Before the match began, the side that Mowbray put out for this encounter saw a triple change to the selection that started in midweek against Newcastle United. Jack Rodwell, Corry Evans and Bradley Dack were all recalled to the starting line-up, with Ryan Nyambe, Richie Smallwood and Ben Brereton making their way to the bench.
Following the Ipswich fans announcing, prior to the game on social media, that Rovers’ former manager Paul Lambert had personally paid for their coach from Suffolk, the 562 supporters came into the ground with a hint of optimism as they were looking to secure back-to-back league wins for the first time since March 2018.
With said optimism in mind, it was the visitors, in their change strip of bright orange, who got the game underway as they looked to build on their previous result, which was a 1-0 home victory over Rotherham United.
Rovers started the brighter of the sides and could have even gone a goal up inside the first 7 minutes after some good interception play by Lewis Travis in the middle of the park, allowed for Danny Graham to have a chance at breaking the deadlock early on. The midfield dynamo pressured Cole Skuse and was able to nick the ball off of the English midfielder before driving into the box. With the Ipswich backline retreating, Travis squared the ball to Graham, who was just behind the penalty area, however the forward, despite steadying himself with a good first touch, failed to hit the target as his effort was blocked behind for a corner, by a retreating Ipswich man.
The deflection behind led to a successive corner in which the first saw Corry Evans connect to it with a volley which was deflected behind, whilst the second was well cleared by the brittle visiting defence.
On the 22nd minute, Bradley Dack showed his capabilities in passing, rather than scoring, as he picked out the advancing Elliott Bennett with a sublime ground pass, to set-up the marauding full-back. The pass eliminated both James Collins and Callum Elder before meeting Bennett, whose side-footed effort towards goal ended up with the travelling support behind Dean Gerken’s goal.
A foul on the edge of the Ipswich box, a couple of minutes after Bennett’s attempt, gave Bradley Dack the opportunity to try and open the scoring from a free-kick. Although the effort was well struck, the wall did its job, as Rovers earnt a corner. From Harrison Reed’s corner, Rovers came within inches of taking the lead after Evans’ volley was diverted towards goal by Rodwell. The strike by the Northern Irish international was tapped towards goal by a retreating Rodwell, who would have notched his first Rovers goal, had it not been for the post who denied him, as Gerken claimed the rebound.
Seconds later, Dack was played through on goal and was agonizingly close to putting Rovers ahead, but his lob over Gerken didn’t have the necessary power to take it over the line, as the experienced veteran Collins was able to get back and easily clear the danger.
After half-an-hour of play, a lovely Rovers move full of fluid passing and movement resulted in an Adam Armstrong shot, as the forward was well picked out by Travis, who was doing a sterling job of pivoting in the middle of the park. Armstrong came in off the left-hand side and took a shot at goal from just inside the Ipswich penalty area, however thankfully for Paul Lambert, his ‘keeper Gerken was alert enough to parry the ball behind for a Rovers corner, which was soon cleared.
Rovers’ domination of the game continued, as Bennett and Armstrong combined for a good chance that the latter missed. After some good ball retention by Rovers, Bennett was able to get down the right-hand side and put in a cross which Armstrong met. Despite the good play and movement from the number 7, he couldn’t find the finish to match, as his header zipped wide.
By the 39th minute, Ipswich were able to relieve themselves of the constant Rovers pressure and move forwards with the ball. A lofted ball forward by Luke Chambers deceived Rovers’ centre-backs as Will Keane got on the end of the pass and charged down at goal. The forward nodded the ball into his stride and manged to get enough on it to push it beyond the on-rushing David Raya, who, had Keane gone to ground, would have no doubt been facing a penalty seconds later. Despite calls from the travelling support to go down, the on-loan Hull City forward, stayed on his feet as he tried to find the net from a tight angle, however Raya was quick enough to assert his dominance at his near-post and block the ball behind for a corner, which was soon cleared by Rovers.
Ipswich’s spell of pressure continued, as a minute later, they were awarded a free-kick which was taken by Town debutant, and former Rover, Alan Judge. The Irishman, who received a good reception from the home crowd, lofted in a free-kick which was aiming to reach Collins, on the penalty spot. Although the set-piece found its intended target, the connection by the former West Ham United defender, was abysmal, as Rovers were awarded a goal-kick.
With the game settling down in the last 5 minutes of the half, referee Darren England called for an extra minute of time, before blowing for the end of the first-half.
As the break ensued, it gave both managers the perfect opportunity to begin to preach their words of wisdom, in an attempt to inspire their players to take the game by the scruff of the net and get the first goal.
Rovers’ dressing room would have, most likely, be filled with encouragement and tactical conversations on how the players could break through an experienced centre-back pairing, in Chambers and Collins. With that in mind, Mowbray would have kept his talk short and sweet, reminding the players that they had the quality within the squad to score the first goal and go on to win the tie. The manager would have also, undoubtedly been focussing on the defensive side of Rovers’ game, as he would have consistently reiterated the need to avoid a potential ‘banana skin’ second-half, which could have potentially seen Ipswich emerge victorious.
In the dressing room opposite, there wouldn’t have been a lot, by way of defence, that would have angered former Rovers boss Paul Lambert, due to his side maintaining their clean sheet at the break. His gripe with his side, would have most likely come due to their lack of attacking intensity and fluidity when transitioning the ball from defence to attack, as bar the final 5 minutes of the half, his side had created little to nothing that troubled Rovers’ backline and ‘keeper.
Both sides soon appeared for the second-half, however before Rovers got the ball rolling, Tony Mowbray made his first change of the game as Harrison Reed was withdrawn and replaced by Joe Rothwell, who took up a position on the left-hand side of the midfield, allowing Armstrong to move over to the right.
The first sighting at goal came 4 minutes after the break as Rothwell and Evans combined cleverly from a corner to set up a Travis shot. A short corner by Rothwell, into Evans, saw the latter play the ball into Travis who tried his luck, but saw his shot blocked and soon cleared.
On the 57th minute, Callum Elder and Freddie Sears managed to craft an opening for the away side down the left, which gave the latter an opportunity to float the ball into Collin Quaner. Although the idea was a good one, the execution was not as the on-loan Huddersfield Town forward’s header was flicked wide of Raya’s upright.
With just over an hour gone, on the 65th minute, Rovers’ persistence finally paid off, as they were awarded a penalty by Darren England, following a trip by Elder on an accelerating Armstrong, in the box. The Geordie used his blistering pace to get beyond the on-loan full-back and managed to get a touch on the ball before being knocked to ground by Elder, which forced Mr. England to award a penalty.
As the referee cleared the area, and handed out instructions regarding encroachment, Danny Graham composed himself in order to take the spot-kick, in the absence of skipper Charlie Mulgrew. Although Graham was ready and waiting for the referee’s whistle, the penalty was delayed by a matter of seconds due to Luke Chambers’ unsportsmanlike attempt at discreetly trying to scuff up the penalty spot, which the Blackburn End crowd were not happy with and Chambers was awarded a yellow card for his troubles. With the drama of the penalty spot behind him, Darren England soon blew for the whistle as Danny Graham began his run-up and casually slotted the ball into the left-hand side of the goal, to put Rovers 1-0 up and grab his 10th goal of the season.
Mere minutes after taking gaining the advantage on the scoreboard, Rovers’ lead was nearly doubled through Joe Rothwell, who thought he had secured his first goal for the club. More patient passing by Rovers saw the ball switched to Rothwell from Bennett, via Armstrong and Amari’i Bell, who played Rothwell through. The former Oxford United man took the ball into his stride before making his way into the box and releasing a curling effort which rebounded back off the post, before being cleared.
After the ball was cleared into touch, Paul Lambert made his first alteration of the afternoon which saw Jack Lankester brought on to replace Collin Quaner.
On the 69th minute, Darragh Lenihan had his name taken by the referee after a foul on Freddie Sears.
Ipswich’s Luke Chambers soon had 2 chances in as many minutes as he saw his first effort, a header from a Sears cross, on the 70th minute saved by David Raya, whilst his second was nodded over the bar, off Judge’s corner, but ruled out regardless, due to a push by the Town captain.
Prior to Raya’s goal-kick, Joe Nuttall was introduced to replace goalscorer Danny Graham, as Tony Mowbray looked to hassle the tiring Ipswich defence, with a strong, powerful, pacey striker.
That decision by the manager paid off within seconds of Nuttall’s arrival onto the pitch as the 21-year old managed to double Rovers’ lead to 2-0, with his very first touch of the ball. A header by Chambers, off Raya’s goal-kick, saw the ball fall into the feet of Travis who passed backwards to Elliott Bennett. The former Norwich City man turned both, Sears and Keane before looking up and playing a sublime through ball, between Collins and Elder, into the path of Armstrong, who had made a run beyond the ball. The pass eventually reached the 21-year old, who squared to Nuttall, allowing the fellow 21-year old to poke home with his debut touch of the game, to put the game seemingly beyond Ipswich’s reach.
A minute after finding the net, Nuttall found himself in the referee’s notebook, after he was booked for a challenge on Chambers.
With 78 minutes gone, Bradley Dack thought he’d struck for a third, as he cut onto his left-foot, from the right-hand side and released a curling effort that tricked round the wrong side of Gerken’s post, as Ipswich earnt a goal-kick.
On the 82nd minute, both sides made changes to their teams in order to freshen up the respective midfields. Rovers removed Corry Evans and introduced Richie Smallwood in his place, whilst Ipswich hooked Freddie Sears and gave Teddy Bishop a runout during the final 8 minutes.
With 5 minutes of normal time remaining, Ipswich were nearly given a lifeline, but for Elliott Bennett’s awareness and positioning. A mix-up by the makeshift right-back and Raya allowed Sears the chance to reduce the deficit, however Bennett to position himself correctly, and despite calls for a handball, Ipswich were awarded a corner, which they squandered.
Dack, in the 89th minute, got on the end of Collins’ poor header and opened his body up before unleashing an effort which curled wide of the post, much to the attacking midfielder’s frustrations.
As the game received an extra 4 minutes of added time, Rothwell again tried his luck, in the first minute of added time, but saw his effort balloon over the bar.
Seconds prior to the final whistle, an outstanding defensive display by Jack Rodwell saw the former Manchester City and England international named as the club sponsor’s Man of the Match, which was met by applause from the home stands.
With Rovers’ dominance throughout the game, Ipswich and their fans soon got their rest bite as referee Darren England blew for full-time and ended a contest which, both on paper and in reality, was a mismatch.
Coming out of this game with the victory was the only thing that Rovers cared about, prior to kick-off, and thankfully, they achieved it with some phenomenal attacking play. Although Ipswich find themselves in such a lowly position on the league table, there were spells in the first-half, where they looked threatening, but ultimately Rovers’ Mulgrew-less defence kept the Tractor Boys at bay, which, from the perspective of a supporter to witness the trouncing at Preston North End, is pleasing. Additionally, the confidence which the current run Rovers find themselves in, brings, is an important landmark in the season, as it will perhaps determine what half of the league Mowbray’s men will end in, come May, and with only 3 of the top 6 – Middlesbrough and Derby County at home and Norwich City away – still to play, there is no reason why Rovers cannot drum up belief – both within the camp and the support base – regarding their ability to stake at least, a top half finish. As hinted to previously, the absence of Mulgrew since the away tie against Newcastle United, has seen his replacement, Jack Rodwell and his partner, Darragh Lenihan, really come into their own with some solid defensive displays, including Man of the Match awards for the pair in back-to-back league games, (vs Millwall for Lenihan and vs Ipswich for Rodwell).
The extension of the league unbeaten run has seen Rovers’ league position boosted heavily to within 6 points off the playoff spots. Mowbray’s men are currently in occupation of 10th place in the division, with 40 points and a -4-goal difference to their name, from the 28 fixtures played.
Looking to the future, Rovers’ next affair is on Saturday 26th January at 3pm, where they welcome an in-form Hull City side, who haven’t tasted defeat since November. Regardless of whether Rovers tame the Tigers, the game that follows Nigel Adkins’ side’s visit, sees the Blues travel to Brentford on Saturday 2nd February, with kick-off pencilled in for 3pm. Following their trip to Griffin Park, Rovers return to Ewood Park to welcome Lee Johnson’s Bristol City – who themselves haven’t lost since November – on Saturday 9th February, also at 3pm.