Frustration was on the cards at Ewood Park, as Rovers failed to resurrect their playoff hopes on Easter Monday, as they stood aside and let Stoke City claim all three points.
Following Rovers’ slip up last week, which saw them lose 2-1 to relegation-threatened Peterborough United, Tony Mowbray made three changes for today’s home clash against Stoke City. Harry Pickering, Bradley Johnson and Tyrhys Dolan all returned, with Ryan Giles, John Buckley and the suspended Tayo Edun all dropping out. There was a return to the side for Joe Rothwell, who found himself on the bench after recovering from an illness. Alongside the start of Ben Brereton Díaz, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday today, there was also a celebration for skipper, Darragh Lenihan who was making his 250th Rovers appearance and his 250th career start.
Geoff Eltringham was the man in the middle, and the official soon got the game underway, with Stoke City set to get the game going. The away side were hoping to get back to winning ways after falling to a 1-0 defeat on Good Friday, at home to Bristol City.
After just four minutes of play, Ewood Park grew restless after Stoke City waltzed through Rovers’ defence to open the scoring so early on into the tie. Joe Allen picked up the ball in the middle of the park and had all the time in the world to pick out a through ball that was flicked into the path of Jacob Brown who used his pace to get away from Scott Wharton, before beating Thomas Kaminski to put the Potters 1-0 up and grab his 12th goal of the season.
With Stoke holding all the possession, the game turned into a one-sided affair, with the visitors doing all the work on the ball, leaving Rovers to huff and puff during the opening twenty minutes of the tie.
In the 23rd minute, former Rovers target, Josh Maja, was booked for delaying a Rovers free-kick from being taken. The subsequent set-piece was floated into the penalty area by Harry Pickering, before Scott Wharton connected with the lofted ball, but the Rovers centre-back couldn’t angle his nod on target.
As the game ticked over into the 30-minute mark, two of the three Rovers centre-backs were cautioned, with Scott Wharton being booked for impeding Jacob Brown in the 32nd minute, whilst Jan Paul van Hecke was shown a yellow card, two minutes later for another foul on the Stoke City goalscorer.
Three minutes after being booked, van Hecke looked to make up for that error by grabbing Rovers’ equaliser. The defender was left unmarked inside the Stoke area as he rose highest to meet Pickering’s corner, but he failed to get the contact required to scare the Stoke defence.
In the 43rd minute, Rovers looked as if they had found their attacking intent as Tyrhys Dolan found Ben Brereton Díaz, who lined up a shooting angle, but Stoke goalie, Jack Bonham was on-hand to deny the birthday boy his second in as many games.
On the stroke of half-time, a corner for the visitors fell to the feet of former Rovers, Taylor Harwood-Bellis who took a snapshot on the swivel, but the Manchester City loanee failed to find the back of the net after his effort was deflected behind for another corner, which Rovers dealt with.
Just prior to the end of the half, two minutes of time were added, but neither side were able to craft any noteworthy chances as Geoff Eltringham soon brought the first period to a conclusion.
Tony Mowbray would have had a lot of work to do during the break as his side had failed to perform at any acceptable level, allowing the visitors the freedom of the stadium in order to go about their business. The Rovers boss would have been feeling the heat, both from the weather and from the stands as he looked to devise a plan to get Rovers back into the game, in order to keep their playoff ambitions alive.
Michael O’Neill would have been pleased, at the break, with how his side had controlled the game and subdued the home side from any real chances at goal. The travelling support would have been delighted with how their side had played, even though they realistically had nothing to play for in terms of the table. The Potters fans would have hoped that they could pick up some momentum towards the end of this campaign in order to try and end the season on a high and crush any Rovers aspirations of a late playoff push.
Just before the teams came out for the second-half, Rovers made their first change of the game which saw Joe Rothwell come on to replace Jan Paul van Hecke, as Rovers switched to a four-back system.
With kick-off imminent, it was Rovers who got the game back underway as they looked to turn the game and the season on its head, in order to try and keep their feint playoff dreams alive and not have the season spiral out of control in the late stage.
In the 48th minute, Josh Maja had gone down and was receiving treatment for a head injury which looked serious initially, but the on-loan Bordeaux forward was deemed okay to continue playing.
Lewis Travis looked to try and net a piledriver in the 54th minute, but the midfielder, who’s not known for his goals, showed why that was the case, as he sent his effort high and wide.
In the 55th minute, Josh Maja and Romaine Sawyers played a one-two, but the resulting shot on target proved easy for Kaminski to hold onto.
A minute later, Tommy Smith was cautioned after fouling Sam Gallagher.
Rovers’ second change of the game came in the 67th minute as John Buckley came on to replace Bradley Johnson.
In the 70th minute, Jack Bonham was up and flying across his goal to deny Sam Gallagher from drawing the hosts level, from the forward’s looping nod.
Rovers’ final change came in the 75th minute as they looked to force the issue in order to salvage something from the tie, as Ryan Hedges replaced Tyrhys Dolan.
Stoke City’s first substitution came four minutes later, as Jaden Philogene-Bidace replaced Romaine Sawyers.
Jack Bonham was proving unbeatable between the Stoke City posts this afternoon as Gallagher and Hedges combined before the former tried to bulldoze one in from distance in the 81st minute, but the goalkeeper was again behind the attempt and gathered with ease.
Three minutes later, Sam Gallagher tried again from range and got closer, only to be denied by the crossbar. The forward burst down the left-hand side before cutting in onto his rocket of a right-foot, prior to letting one fly from range, but the effort summed up Rovers’ afternoon as the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.
After the ball went out of play, Stoke made their second change of the game as Steven Fletcher came on to replace Josh Maja.
Lewis Travis looked to pick out Gallagher with a cross in the 86th minute, but the attacker’s x chance of the game again failed to hit the target.
In the 89th minute, Jacob Brown managed to fashion two attempts at goal, with the first being denied by Thomas Kaminski, before the second was denied by a fine block by Darragh Lenihan.
Just as the clock ticked over into the 90th minute, Ben Brereton Díaz saw his effort blocked by the valiant Stoke defence.
With the end looming, Geoff Eltringham added on a minimum of four minutes onto the end of the Easter Monday contest.
The 93rd minute saw Jack Bonham earnt whatever clean-sheet bonuses that he has written into his contract as he did fantastically well to deny Ryan Hedges’ header from point-blank range, before watching in disbelief as Ben Brereton Díaz’s follow-up nestled into the side-netting, as the visiting team knew they were only seconds away from securing their 16th win of the campaign.
Soon after the goal-kick was taken, the penultimate home game of Rovers’ season was brought to a disappointing end, as Stoke ran out 1-0 winners at Ewood Park, with the Rovers players leaving a lot to be desired, despite a decent second-half display.
‘Lack of desire, passion and commitment’ were phrases that were banded about between the supporters throughout the game and on social media at full-time. Although the second-half showed a marked improvement, which came after Rovers reverted from a 5-3-2 to a 4-3-3, they failed to make their many chances could as an inspired Stoke shot-stopped in Jack Bonham, all but put the final nail in Rovers’ promotion hopes. There’s a lot of work to do at Ewood Park, whether that being between now and the end of the season or during the summer, regardless of how the managerial situation swings. It seems like this upcoming summer will be quite a watershed moment for both the fans, and the club’s owners, who will have to answer some of the hardest questions and set our Rovers’ ambitions for the upcoming season.
The league table still offers Rovers a chance to sneak into the playoffs – although Sheffield United do still have to play Bristol City later on this evening. Mowbray’s side are sat in 8th having been leapfrogged by Millwall during the 3pm kick-offs and remain somewhat desperate to cling onto their 63 points from the 43 games they have played, which includes a now decreasing goal-difference which sits at +8.
Rovers stay in Lancashire for their next tie, but make the short to Deepdale to lock horns with rivals Preston North End in a which will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports, on 25th April, with kick-off scheduled for 7:30pm. Rovers’ penultimate game of the season – and their final one at Ewood Park for this campaign – comes on Saturday 30th April, with Rovers set to host promotion-chasing Bournemouth at 3pm, before finishing the campaign away at St. Andrew’s against Birmingham City on Saturday 7th May at 12:30pm.