MATCH REPORT 2021/22: Preston North End 1 – 4 Blackburn Rovers

MATCH REPORT 2021/22: Preston North End 1 – 4 Blackburn Rovers

It was a Derby Day Demolition at Deepdale for the Sky Sports cameras to enjoy, as Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers kept their feint aspirations of securing a playoff spot alive, following a Monday Night Massacre, as Rovers beat Preston North End, 4-1 to complete their first double the Lilywhites since the 2000-01 promotion campaign, 21 years ago.

After having a week off, following last Monday’s 1-0 home defeat against Stoke City on Easter Monday, Tony Mowbray made three changes to Rovers’ team for the penultimate away game of the campaign. Rovers switched to a 4-3-3 system, as Joe Rothwell and John Buckley came back into the side at the expense of Ryan Nyambe and Bradley Johnson who dropped out of the side altogether, whilst there was a second start for Ryan Hedges, who took the place of former PNE youngster, Tyrhys Dolan, who was available from the bench.

With the Sky Sports cameras ready and salivating at the prospect of a Lancashire Derby, both sets of supporters were in good spirits ahead of the 7:30pm kick-off, despite the hosts having nothing to play for, whilst Rovers were rather optimistically hoping they could sneak back into the playoff places.

As 7:30pm approached, it was Rovers who got the game underway following the whistle from referee Jeremy Simpson. The away side, who were backed by over 3,500 fans, were looking to grab their first league double over Preston North End in 21 years, in addition to wanting to keep their very slim hopes of sneaking into the playoffs alive.

50 seconds into the derby and the first booking was revealed as Harry Pickering was cautioned after clattering into Brad Potts.

The first attempt of the game came in the 6th minute through Joe Rothwell. After Ryan Hedges drove Rovers forward following a turnover in play, the ball was worked out as far as Rothwell who skipped past a couple of bodies before trying his luck from outside the area, but his deflected effort fell straight into the palms of Daniel Iversen.

After Ben Brereton Díaz was hauled down on the left-hand side of the pitch, Rovers were able to open the scoring from the resulting free-kick. Harry Pickering’s delivery was flicked on at the near-post by Brereton Díaz, but saw his nod ricochet back off the upright before Preston failed to clear their lines. The hesitancy from the home side ultimately soon cost them as Sam Gallagher found the net with a diving header into an empty net for 1-0!

In the 11th minute, Joe Rothwell nearly notched up an assist for Scott Wharton, who came close to doubling his side’s lead so early on. The midfielder’s delivery was perfect, but Wharton was narrowly beaten in the air by the home defence who conceded a corner, that they soon dealt with.

Moments after Preston cleared the corner, Rovers were back on the attack as Preston’s clearance saw Rovers given the ball back. Tony Mowbray’s side did well to work the ball back up the field, before John Buckley took control and tried his luck with a low drive from around 20-yards out, yet a tiny deflection off Andrew Hughes ended up making all the difference as the ball was diverted away from the sprawling Iversen, as the Rovers fans behind Thomas Kaminski erupted in celebration of 2-0.

In the 21st minute, Sam Gallagher added to his goal with a booking after he prevented a North End counter-attack through a shirt pull.

Although Rovers dominated the first 28 minutes of the game, the 29th minute offered Preston a slither of hope through their skipper, Alan Browne. Former Rover Greg Cunningham was afforded space on the edge of the area to slip Browne in and the Republic of Ireland international wasted not time in twisting and turning onto his left-foot before his shot took a heavy diversion via the head of Scott Wharton, leaving Thomas Kaminski wrong-footed and frozen to the spot, as the ball flew into the top right-hand corner of the net to reduce the arrears after half-an-hour, to 2-1.

Rovers remained on top despite the loss of their clean-sheet and managed to regain their two-goal advantage as after Hedges was bundled over on the edge of the area by Patrick Bauer, Rothwell and Pickering both stood over the ball with intent. After Pickering provided the dummy run, Rothwell delivered a stupendous back-post cross that saw skipper Darragh Lenihan leap like a salmon to connect with the ball as his header looped over Iversen to give Rovers a 3-1 lead!

A few minutes after the restart, Preston were on the attack as Brad Potts’ rather harmless cross saw Lewis Travis inadvertently connect with the delivery as the midfielder nearly diverted the ball into his own net, but for the alertness of Thomas Kaminski, who tipped the ball over the crossbar.

In the 41st minute, Preston again broke as the ball was played in from the right-hand side and fell to Daniel Johnson who wound up a shot from the edge of the area, but Lenihan was on-hand to show his quality at the defensive end as well as the attacking end, as he stuck out a boot to block the Jamaican’s effort.

After Jeremy Simpson called for three minutes of added time to be played at the end of the first-half, the whistle for the interval soon came as the players walked off the pitch to a chorus of Deepdale boos from the home crowd who were less than happy with how their side had performed in the first period.

PNE gaffer Ryan Lowe would have had a big job on his hands throughout the interval as he looked to rally his team in the hope they’d pull off a sensational second-half comeback. The former Plymouth Argyle and Bury manager would have been structuring his words carefully at the break to offer a balance between criticism and encouragement during his half-time speech. Although the Lilywhites had nothing to play for in terms of the table, the manager would have been reminding his players of the personal pride that was at stake for the supporters.

Tony Mowbray, on the other hand, would have been delighted with how his side had flown out of the blocks, but the gaffer wouldn’t have been letting the excitement and adrenaline get to his side’s head, especially after the recent experiences most of these players had suffered at Deepdale in recent years. The boss would have remained calm and collected throughout his speech, praising but also encouraging his players after their 10/10 first-half display.

Once both sides re-emerged from their respective dressing rooms, there was a change in the offing for the home side as Sean Maguire replaced Greg Cunningham.

With the second period set to start, it was Preston who got the game back underway for the second-half, as they looked to redeem themselves following a disastrous first 45 minutes.

Following a Rovers corner after 51 minutes, Joe Rothwell managed to pick out Darragh Lenihan who was lurking around the edge of the area due to the set-piece, but the skipper failed to grab a brace as his first-time effort ended up with the Rovers fans behind Daniel Iversen’s goal.

The rampant Rovers didn’t stop attacking there, however, as one minute and 23 seconds after the ball left Lenihan’s boot, it found itself nestled into the back of the Preston net, courtesy of a fantastically composed finish from Lewis Travis who notched his first Rovers goal since grabbing the opener in a 1-1 away draw against Middlesbrough, back in February 2020. A Harry Pickering throw-in found Ben Brereton Díaz who drove inside brilliantly and bypassed a few players in white shirts, before finding Lewis Travis who had made a run from deep into space. The holding midfielder was brilliantly picked out by the Chilean and the midfielder produced a fine first-touch to take the ball into his stride before calmly stroking the ball home, past Iversen and his near-post, in-front of the Rovers fans to send the travelling contingency wild as the score before 4-1!

Preston thought they’d grabbed a goal back in the 59th minute after Emil Riis Jakobsen managed to craft a point-blank attempt at goal, after a Daniel Johnson corner caused a scramble inside the Rovers box. Fortunately for the away side, though, their top-class ‘keeper, Thomas Kaminski produced a fabulous save with his legs to deny the Dane.

Moments later, PNE managed to earn a free-kick on the edge of the Rovers box, but Kaminski was again on-hand to deny the former Doncaster Rovers midfielder.

Whiteman was again involved in proceedings in the 62nd minute as he was booked for infringing upon Joe Rothwell.

A minute later, John Buckley picked up his twelfth booking of the campaign after making a late lunge on Alan Browne. The Republic of Ireland international soon picked himself up and tried to sneak a quick-free-kick inside the near-post, but despite the fact that he missed with his cheeky attempt, referee Jeremy Simpson brought play back for the set-piece to be taken quickly, but thankfully from a Rovers perspective, the wall did its job.

It was nearly five in the 67th minute, as Sam Gallagher did brilliantly to spin and latch onto Darragh Lenihan’s precise through-ball, but the forward’s first-time snapshot was somehow denied by the feet of an off-balanced Iversen, who couldn’t prevent the conceding of a corner, which his side soon dealt with.

Preston’s second change of the evening came in the 71st minute, as Joe Rafferty was thrown on to replace the injury-stricken Andrew Hughes.

In the 73rd minute, there were calls from the away end to dismiss the already-booked Ben Whiteman after his extremely late lunge on John Buckley on halfway, but the referee played advantage for Rovers.

A minute later, Ben Brereton Díaz so nearly got the goal that his hard-work and assist deserved. An overlapping Darragh Lenihan looked to pick out the Chilean to add an assist to his own goal tally, but despite the delivery being right on the money, Brereton Díaz saw his header clip the crossbar and bobble behind.

From the Preston goal-kick, Riis Jakobsen was afforded a chance at goal, moments prior to the offside flag being raised. The Dane was illegally slipped through by Daniel Johnson, but the former Derby County attacker blazed his effort over the bar, before the flag was raised.

In the 79th minute, there was a return to action for Ian Poveda, who replaced Sam Gallagher. The on-loan Leeds United attacker was playing his first game since breaking his ankle back in the 1-1 draw away at Bristol City in November.

Three minutes later, Preston made their final change of the night as Alistair McCann replaced the booked Ben Whiteman.

Rovers made their final two switches in the 87th minute as Tayo Edun returned after his one-match suspension, alongside Bradley Dack, who replaced Joe Rothwell and Sky’s Man of the Match, John Buckley.

As the game seeped into the final moments with Rovers comfortably on-top, Mr. Simpsons added on four extra minutes of added time onto the end of the affair, but they proved irrelevant, as Preston failed to gain a look in, with Rovers playing keep-ball.

With the Rovers fans serenading their side, including gloating about the fact they had finally picked up maximum points whilst being beamed on Sky Sports, the final whistle was soon followed by a ferocious roar of delight from the 3,500-odd fans who had made the short trip across the M65.

It’s hard not to be caught up in the atmosphere of such a huge victory, regardless of whether we achieve the end goal or not. On top of the fact that this was the first victory in the red and black away kit, the team selection and the performance from the players worked perfectly in tandem with each other and produced one of Rovers’ best performances and results of the campaign. Although Preston failed to show up, bar for their goal, Rovers showed the world why they had been so attractive to watch and spent most of the campaign inside the playoff places.

Although there has been some temper and uncertainty in recent weeks from the fanbase regarding the potential managerial situation, Tony Mowbray tonight showed that he still has what it takes to manage at this level and win convincingly. Saying that, there is argument to suggest that the four-back system should have been introduced from the off, earlier than it has been. Regardless of the debate, Rovers now have two games to take the race for the playoffs down to the wire.

The table is looking a bit more optimistic for Rovers, who have moved up to 7th with today’s victory. Rovers are now 7th with 66 points from 44 games alongside a positive goal-difference of +11. The maximum number of points that Rovers can achieve is 72, which opens up 5th and 6th place, if 5th place occupants Luton Town fail to win their final two games away at already-promoted Fulham and at home to safe-from-relegation Reading.

Sheffield United, who are the more sensible target, are away at QPR next, before ending their season at home to Fulham, whilst 8th Millwall still have to host Peterborough and travel to Bournemouth before their season’s over. Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough, who sit 9th on 64 points have three games left: Cardiff City (A), Stoke City (H) and Preston North End (A), so there’s still every chance the Boro could find their season extended. Although Coventry City and Queens Park Rangers aren’t mathematically out of the playoff race, it would take an almighty collapse from the teams above them for either of those sides to stumble into 6th position.

Speaking of the playoff hunt, Rovers are next in action on Saturday 30th April, where AFC Bournemouth make the trip up to Ewood Park, for Rovers’ final home game of the campaign. The game, which kicks-off at 3pm, could potentially move Scott Parker’s side close to a Premier League return, but Rovers could equally upset the Cherries’ party and shuffle themselves closer to the playoff pack. After that game, Rovers round up the season away at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium, with the hopes that they’ll still have something to play for come 12:30pm, on Saturday 7th May.