Rovers’ playoff dreams dissipated amongst a buoyant AFC Bournemouth side who moved one step closer to securing a return to the Premier League, as the Cherries rolled out as 3-0 winners at Ewood Park.
After Rovers kept their very slim chances of sneaking into the playoff places alive, following the 4-1 hammering of Lancashire rivals, Preston North End, last Monday, Tony Mowbray named an unchanged side, for the first-time since 2nd January’s 0-0 draw at home to Huddersfield Town*, as the manager prepared to bow out of Ewood Park on a high, after all but confirming this game to be his last home outing as Blackburn Rovers manager. The final home game of the campaign was not without milestones, as John Buckley lined-up for his 50th Rovers league start, whilst Harry Pickering, who was ending a debut season with Rovers, was capping off his home games with his 200th career appearance.
Just prior to kick-off, Rovers’ Goal and Player of the Season awards were handed out, with Brighton and Hove Albion duo, Reda Khadra and Jan Paul van Hecke scooping the respective awards. Khadra’s fantastic free-kick against Queens Park Rangers won him the Goal of the Season accolade, whilst his Seagulls sidekick, van Hecke was crowned as the club’s 2021-22 Player of the Season, following an outstanding first full campaign in English football at senior level.
When the clock hit 3pm, it was Bournemouth who got the game underway in-front of a packed Ewood Park crowd, as 21,396 fans had crammed into the ground for what was Tony Mowbray’s final home game in the Rovers hotseat. Bournemouth and their 1,994 supporters had come to try and spoil the party by starting one of their own, however, as the Cherries looked to gain a vital three points that would guarantee them one foot in the 2022-23 Premier League, ahead of their crunch final game against closest rivals, Nottingham Forest.
The game started lively in the tackling department as after only three minutes, referee Robert Jones got his cards out early as Liverpool-loanee Nathaniel Phillips was booked early on for fouling Sam Gallagher.
Ten minutes later, the first opening towards goal appeared and it came the way of the visitors. Philip Billing was able to craft some space in the area before his shot was well-blocked by Rovers’ recently crowned Player of the Season, Jan Paul van Hecke.
With 16 minutes gone, the game’s second booking appeared as Scott Wharton was cautioned for handball just outside the Rovers penalty area, but Bournemouth were unable to capitalise on the set-piece as it flew over the bar.
It didn’t take long, however, for the visitor’s soon-to-be Premier League quality to shine through as Dominic Solanke notched his 29th league goal of the campaign after a fine move by the hosts saw the former Liverpool forward break between the lines and find the net. After Phillips’ long-ball forward that Billing flicked on, Solanke did brilliantly well to beat the offside trap and latch onto the ball before facing Thomas Kaminski, one-on-one. Despite still having Kaminski to beat, the forward was in acres of space having left the defenders for dead and had all the time in the world to slot the ball past the Belgian goalie, to put the Cherries, 1-0 to the good.
In the 26th minute, Rovers were able to force Mark Travers in the Bournemouth goal, into a save. Darragh Lenihan’s cross was met by the head of Sam Gallagher, who beat his man at the far-post, but the header was turned behind for a corner, which the visitors cleared.
Moments later, despite Bournemouth clearing the corner, Rovers were back in possession and moving towards goal. Lenihan’s fantastic ball down the line, saw Ben Brereton Díaz run in-behind the Bournemouth line before opening up his body and trying to slot the ball home, but the Chilean saw his effort cannon back off the upright, before spinning wide.
The 29th minute nearly saw Solanke notch 30 goals for the campaign, but despite the forward’s good movement to create the chance, Kaminski came out on top with his latest effort at goal.
Jaidon Anthony tried his luck from distance in the 32nd minute, but the Cherries academy graduate’s long-range effort rattled the crossbar, as Rovers were shaken and reeling.
In the 40th minute, Ryan Hedges was booked for apparent simulation, despite being bundled to the floor right on the edge of the Bournemouth box.
As the interval edged closer, the referee, Rob Jones added on two extra minutes onto the end of the first-half.
The last word of the half fell to Cherries target, Joe Rothwell, who tried to level against his potential future employers. The speedy midfielder drove into the box from the right-hand side and released a left-foot attempt that lacked the required accuracy.
Rothwell’s effort was the last attempt of the half, as not long after play was restarted by Travers’ goal-kick, Mr. Jones called time on the first-half, as Rovers saw their playoff hopes slipping away, whilst Bournemouth edged ever-closer to a return to the big time.
Tony Mowbray would have been frustrated with the simple manner in which his side had been carved open, but would have been quick to encourage his side to try and use the home advantage and the support of the fans to turn the game around and keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Scott Parker, on the other hand, would have been thrilled with how his composed players had remained calm and continued with business as usual, despite the enormous amount of pressure they were under as a result of their expectations.
Rovers soon got the second period underway, as they looked to try and end their season on a high note and win the game whilst giving the home support something to remember prior to the summer, as Tony Mowbray looked to try and go out on a high.
Rovers started the second-half in the ascendency as Brereton Díaz received a pass from Ryan Hedges and bulldozed his way into the six-yard box, however Travers was again on-hand to deny the Chilean, via a smart save at his near-post.
Less than ten minutes into the second-half and both John Buckley and Jan Paul van Hecke were booked within three minutes of each other, for separate incidents.
After 57 minutes, Bournemouth forced Rovers into putting their bodies on the line to deny them a second goal. Jordan Zemura showed off his agility and balance as he burst into the area and forced an effort that was only cleared as far as Jefferson Lerma, whose follow-up attempt was well blocked by Harry Pickering.
In the 59th minute, Rothwell slid Brereton Díaz in, however the Chilean was denied once again by the inform Travers, who stopped the Rovers attacker from clinching 22 goals for the season, through a fine save with his legs.
On the hour mark, Tony Mowbray made a double change as Ian Poveda and Tyrhys Dolan replaced Ryan Hedges and Joe Rothwell.
A minute later, Scott Parker also shuffled his pack as Rovers’ January target, Siriki Dembélé replaced Jaidon Anthony.
With 68 minutes gone, Solanke nearly doubled his tally for the afternoon after he used his pace to burst away from the challenges of Scott Wharton and Jan Paul van Hecke. Despite the two putting in decent challenges, the ball remained glued to the feet of the forward who soon only had Kaminski to beat, however the Belgian goalie showed his class by pulling off a vital save to keep Rovers in the game.
Rovers’ final change of the game came moments after Kaminski’s save had led to a Bournemouth corner. Sam Gallagher departed the Ewood Park pitch, with Bradley Dack replacing him.
Dack had only been on the field for 120 seconds before his task of helping Rovers get back into the game became infinitely harder, as Bournemouth soon worked themselves up the pitch and quickly grabbed a second goal to put real daylight between the sides, only two minutes later, through Philip Billing. Dembélé picked up the ball from deep and powered forward, as Mr. Jones, the official played advantage, despite the former Peteborough United forward being fouled. The loose ball was slipped into the path of Solanke who wasted no time in picking out the Great Dane, Billing, who notched his ninth goal of the campaign by firing the ball into the top left-hand corner of the net, for 2-0.
Five minutes later, Scott Parker looked to sit back and secure all three points by making a defensive change, as Chris Mepham came on to replace Ryan Christie.
2-0 soon became 3-0, as Philip Billing grabbed his second of the game and entered into double figures for goals, this season in the 79th minute. Dembélé continued to show his quality and energy as he won the ball back for the visitors high up the pitch and slipped Billing in with a fine low pass through the Rovers lines, leaving the Dane with little to do, as he curled the ball past Kaminski at the near-post to treble the Cherries’ advantage and killed off any Rovers hopes of making the 2021-22 Championship playoffs.
The 83rd minute saw Bournemouth make their final switch as another former Rovers target, Jamal Lowe was thrown on for the final few minutes, in-place of Dominic Solanke who had ran himself into the ground as well as added an second-half assist to his first-half goal.
Four minutes later, Jordan Zemura was booked after he fouled the on-loan Leeds United winger, Ian Poveda.
After three minutes of time were added onto the end of the game and played with no real threat to either goal, Mr. Jones called time on the game and the season at Ewood Park as the visitors celebrated moving one step closer to their objective, whilst Rovers were left wondering what might have been. Following the game, the players and the departing manager went on a lap of honour around the stadium to thank the fans for their support this season, with Mowbray being offered a final chance to bid farewell ahead of his self-confirmed departure following the final game of the campaign, away at Birmingham City.
With Rovers’ hopes of securing a playoff place gone, the Blues only have pride to play for in their final game of the campaign. Whilst the league table position doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, they currently sit 9th with 66 points and a positive goal-difference of +8 from the 45 games that they have played.
Tony Mowbray’s five-year spell in charge of Blackburn Rovers will culminate on the road – just as it started in the 1-1 draw at Burton Albion – as Rovers finish the 2021-22 season in England’s Second City. The final bout of the season will be against under-pressure Lee Bowyer’s Birmingham City on Saturday 7th May, with kick-off at the St. Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium pencilled in for 12:30pm.