Tony Mowbray departed Blackburn Rovers on a high, as his young side showed that there was plenty to be excited about following the gaffer’s departure, as a rotated Rovers side were able to reward the travelling end-of-season support of 1,697 Rovers fans, with a 2-1 win against lowly Birmingham City.
After Rovers saw their promotion play-off hopes fade with the 3-0 home defeat to now-promoted AFC Bournemouth, Tony Mowbray looked to give chances to those who hadn’t received as much game time over the course of the season, as he made three changes to last week’s defeat. Irish defender James Brown made his Rovers debut, whilst Daniel Ayala and Tayo Edun returned to the starting-line up, as Darragh Lenihan departed as well as Jan Paul van Hecke, who had played his final game for Rovers last Saturday. Joe Rothwell was the other who didn’t make the matchday squad with heavy suggestions that he too had played his last game in the Blue and White halves.
As 12:30pm edged closer, it was Birmingham City who got the game underway, following the whistle from referee Andy Davies, as Lee Bowyer’s side looked to try and round off a disappointing campaign with a victory.
The game’s first chance came after just seven minutes, as Rovers nearly fired themselves ahead through Sam Gallagher who was searching for his 10th goal of the campaign. After Harry Pickering chipped a ball down the line to Gallagher, the former Blues loanee released a rocket of a shot that stung the palms of Neil Etheridge, before the Filipino kept hold of the ball.
In the 13th minute, Ryan Hedges continued to show his fine form as he picked out Ben Brereton Díaz with a cross, but the Chilean’s nod dropped wide of the mark.
Six minutes later, Hedges again danced around his marker before cutting inside and trying his luck from range, but his effort was deflected behind for a corner which the home side soon cleared.
Moments later, in the 22nd minute, the former Aberdeen man was at it again, as he replicated his first effort, but with a bit more success as he forced Etheridge into a save this time, but nobody was on hand to finish off the loose ball.
The breakthrough soon came in the 28th minute as Rovers managed to fire themselves ahead through the club’s Young Player of the Season, John Buckley, who made it 1-0. The young midfielder was able to find Ben Brereton Díaz, before continuing his run. The Chilean had all the freedom in the world to cut inside and find Hedges. The Welshman had floated just outside the penalty area to keep the move flowing and found Buckley who was around 25-30 yards out from goal. The 22-year-old again was given the freedom of the Second City to line up his first-time effort, as he lasered his effort into the top left-hand corner of the net, with Etheridge beaten.
In the 32nd minute, Jordan James tried to draw the scores back level in the 32nd minute from a tight angle and forced Thomas Kaminski into a save.
Sam Gallagher’s work-rate was again of the highest quality in the 39th minute, as he tracked back and won the ball back in the Birmingham half before finding Hedges, whose effort from range cleared the crossbar.
In the 43rd minute, the first booking of the game was shown as Tayo Edun was booked for a high challenge.
As the 45th minute approached, Rovers managed to double their lead with a goal that was arguably better than the first, as Ben Brereton Díaz rivalled John Buckley with their own Goal of the Season competition, to make it 2-0. The Chilean notched his 22nd goal of the campaign with an outstanding curling finish from the wide-left. Pickering picked up an assist by laying the ball off to Rovers’ top scorer, but the attacker did all the effort himself. Brereton Díaz again, was given all the time and space he required as he picked out the top-right-hand corner of the net, and completely left Etheridge stranded from around 25 yards before wheeling away in celebration of arguably, his best goal of the campaign.
The Chilean’s strike proved to be the final act of the game, as the first-half was soon brought to an end with Rovers on top and looking good value for three points, despite there being nothing but pride to play for in the game.
Tony Mowbray would have been delighted with how his young, rotated side had played in the end-of-season clash. The boss’ final game in-charge of Rovers was going well and he would have been pleased to not only see out his final game with a win, but also give the fans who made the arduous journey to the Second City, reward for the money they had paid and their effort.
Lee Bowyer would have been forgiven for being stunned at how his side had gone behind, but would have been quick to lay into his team during the break. His side lacked any attacking intent and pressure on the ball, defensively as they allowed Rovers to roam freely within St. Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium, with little to no opposition. The Brum boss, who was rumoured to have been on the cusp of the sack, would have wanted his side to show the fans and his bosses, why he should be given the chance to lead the side into 2022-23.
Before Rovers got the second-half back underway, there was a change within the Rovers ranks as Bradley Dack – who scored here, against this opposition last season, during his first ACL comeback – came on to replace the booked Tayo Edun.
Three minutes into the second period and Thomas Kaminski was forced into a fantastic save as Lyle Taylor connected from a Birmingham corner. After the set-piece was whipped in the on-loan Nottingham Forest forward leapt highest in the penalty area and won his header at the back-post, but the cat-like reflexes of Thomas Kaminski proved vital as the Belgian sprawled across his line to keep the header out.
In the 59th minute, Brereton Díaz tried to make lightening strike twice, but this time Etheridge was equal to the forward’s effort from range.
On the hour-mark, Birmingham made their first and second changes of the game, as George Hall and Jobe Bellingham – brother of Borussia Dortmund and England star, Jude – came on to replace Juninho Bacuna and Tahith Chong.
Neil Etheridge was showing in this game, why he was still classed as one of the best goalies in the division as he again denied Ryan Hedges, this time from close-range, after he was slipped through by Sam Gallagher.
Rovers’ second substitution of the day soon came in the 67th minute as Dilan Markanday replaced Ben Brereton Díaz.
Lyle Taylor again looked to try and test Thomas Kaminski, this time from a free-kick in the 76th minute, yet the forward’s effort cleared the Belgian’s crossbar.
Rovers’ final change of the afternoon saw Jack Vale replace Sam Gallagher in the 77th minute.
Things got interesting in the 78th minute as Kristian Pedersen reduced the arrears to 2-1, after a fine solo run and finish. The Dane dribbled and avoided a few half-hearted challenges from the Rovers backline, before finding a finish into the bottom corner, past Kaminski, who would have been annoyed to lose his clean-sheet.
With 83 minutes gone, the crowd were treated to a rarity – an indirect free-kick from inside the box. After Etheridge had – for some reason – picked up a backpass, Rovers were given the rather hilarious opportunity to regain their two-goal advantage with the free-kick from inside the area, but Bradley Dack’s effort clattered into the wall.
Five minute later, Rovers were still desperate to make it three as Markanday showed off his pace by slipping in-behind the Brum defence and latching onto a Hedges through pass, but again, Etheridge was on-hand to save the day.
As four minutes of time was added onto the end of the game, as the 90th minute approached, Birmingham made their final change of the game as Scott Hogan replaced Lyle Taylor.
The final four minutes soon sped by as Andy Davies soon called time on the game, and the season as Rovers finished their campaign as they started – with a 2-1 victory.
This season has been one that has, at time, been hard to describe. We’ve covered the full range of emotions throughout this 46-game season, from the highs and the euphoria of beating AFC Bournemouth, 2-0 and sitting 2nd in the table, to being at our lowest point after being pummelled 7-0 by eventual Champions, Fulham. What we do know is that, this season has certainly given us the belief and hope that we can do it again in the future, if we sort ourselves out in the areas where it matters the most. We rallied back from losing a star and uncovered a diamond in the rough as we lost Adam Armstrong, however the rise of Ben Brereton Díaz captured the hearts and minds of both, the town of Blackburn and the nation of Chile and proved that we do have quality within our ranks. With the likes of John Buckley, Lewis Travis, Thomas Kaminski, Sam Gallagher and many others to name, Rovers certainly have the squad – as shown this season – capable of raising a few eyebrows around the division.
We would just like to thank all readers and new followers for their support through what has been a rollercoaster of a season. We look forward to keeping content going into our sixth year, in 2022-23!
With Rovers rounding off the campaign, and Mowbray’s tenure with a win, the Blues have finished the campaign in 8th place – a disappointing six points off the playoff places. The young team have the foundations in place, ready for the next manager to take the reigns. It will certainly be an interesting summer ahead as we look for Tony Mowbray’s successor.
There wasn’t much to be decided on the final day in-terms of relegation – see table below – as we knew a while ago that Peterborough United – who beat Blackpool 5-0 on the final day – would join financially stricken Derby County and Barnsley in League One, however the surprise was towards the top end of the table, as Luton Town joined Huddersfield Town, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United in the post-season playoffs.