Blackburn Rovers finally earned their first draw of the 2022-23 Sky Bet Championship after 27 games, as Matchday 28 saw them pegged back by Bristol City, in a game that had two second-half goals and a red card.
As Rovers looked to return to winning ways following their 4-0 mauling against lowly Rotherham United last week, Jon Dahl Tomasson made three alterations to last week’s team, as Ben Brereton Díaz returned to the side after missing last game due to the birth of his first child. Alongside the Chilean – who replaced Sam Gallagher – John Buckley returned to the side, to replace Jake Garrett following his three-match suspension, whilst Scott Wharton came in to replace Dom Hyam, who picked up an injury last time out. There were a queue of milestones amongst the Rovers tanks as Scott Wharton was set to make his 50th Rovers league start, Bradley Dack was a century ahead of him with his 150th Rovers league appearance, whilst Joe Rankin-Costello was also hitting half a century of games in Blue and White.
The Rovers allocation was sold out come kick-off, as 1,036 Blue and White supporters squeezed into the Atyeo Stand behind the goal on the left-hand side, as they arrived at Ashton Gate with an expectation that their players would improve on last week’s shambolic display. With that in mind, referee Tim Robinson put the whistle to his lips to signal the kick-off, which was taken by the home side, Bristol City, who were looking to earn three consecutive wins after beating Birmingham City, 4-2, last week and Swansea City, 2-1, after extra-time in the FA Cup Third Round Replay.
A quiet opening ten minutes nearly saw Rovers go ahead after 12, as Ryan Hedges put in an inviting delivery towards the back-post which Ben Brereton Díaz connected with, but the new father was unable to find the back of the net, as his half-volley flew over the crossbar from close-range.
Bristol City were up the other end of the field, seven minutes later, as Antoine Semenyo also played role of provider for Nakhi Wells, who stabbed wide at the near-post.
Wells was again causing Rovers problems, just like he did in the reverse fixture at Ewood Park, as he connected with a cross from the left-hand side and flicked the ball towards goal at the near-post, but Thomas Kaminski’s reaction save with his chest kept the game goalless.
Daniel Ayala became the first player to be booked in the 37th minute after clattering into a home player on halfway.
Scott Wharton wasn’t far behind as he and Alex Scott nearly went through a Dancing On Ice routine in the 43rd minute, in which the Rovers defender emerged with a caution.
A quiet first-half, particularly from Rovers’ perspective was soon brought to an end after two minutes of added time were added on and played out, as despite some nervy moments at the back for Rovers, bar that one chance from their Chilean forward, they never really looked like threatening Max O’Leary in the City goal.
Nigel Pearson would have been happy with how his side had began the opening period of the game, but would have been calling for more efficiency in the attacking third, at the break. Although the former Leicester City manager would have been annoyed that his side went into the break with only 47% possession, his side’s counter-attacking ability would have filled him with confidence at the break.
Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been slightly frustrated that his side had somewhat failed to cause panic in the opposing half. The Dane would have also been wary at the fact that both of his central defenders were on a booking and that his side had spent most of the first period entrenched in their own half, finding it hard to get the likes of Bradley Dack and Jack Vale into the game. With the options of Tyrhys Dolan and Sam Gallagher available from the bench, there could have been a possibility that the Head Coach would have changed his side up at the break to try and give them an outlet when regaining possession in their own half.
Once both teams returned to the pitch for the second period, it was Rovers who got the ball rolling as they looked to try and earn their first victory at Ashton Gate since 2019, where goals from Bradley Johnson and Adam Armstrong sealed all three points for then-manager Tony Mowbray in a 2-0 win.
After a tentative, but more positive start to the second-half from Rovers’ perspective, they managed to craft the opening goal of the game, courtesy of some instinctive play from Bradley Dack. A flowing Rovers move saw them break down the right-hand side and into the channel as Tyler Morton took the ball to the byline and pulled it back to earn an assist from the clinical Dack, who notched for the second time in three league games to make it 1-0.
Rovers soon saw penalty appeals in the 62nd minute waved away by Tim Robinson after it appeared that Joe Rankin-Costello had been fouled on the edge of the box, but equilibrium was soon restored as Bristol City were imminently denied their first penalty since 6th November 2021, after Scott Wharton narrowly won the ball against Nakhi Wells.
Two minutes after the penalty shouts, Rovers nearly extended their lead to two as Brereton Díaz got on the end of another Hedges cross, but the Chilean’s kung-fu kick failed to trouble O’Leary.
City made the first change of the game in the 66th minute, introducing midweek matchwinner, Sam Bell for Mark Sykes.
Parity on the scoreline was soon restored as Antoine Semenyo notched his third successive goal in as many games, after a howler from Thomas Kaminski opened the door for the Ghanaian. After Rovers only half-cleared a City corner, Zak Vyner picked the ball up from deep and tried his luck from range after avoiding a few Rovers bodies, but Kaminski failed to keep hold of the effort, parrying the ball into the path of Semenyo, who had the easiest tap-in for 1-1.
Rovers’ afternoon went from bad to worse in the 74th minute when skipper Daniel Ayala was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence after some argie-bargie with Nakhi Wells. That dismissal forced Rovers into a change as Hayden Carter came on to replace Jack Vale.
Zak Vyner became the first City player to be booked, in the 79th minute after clattering John Buckley.
After a few wayward and blocked attempts from Alex Scott, Rovers began to sink deeper into their own box, yet thought they’d lost the game in the 90th minute as Sam Bell managed to sneak behind Rovers’ back six and slot the ball past Kaminski, but the visitors were saved by the offside flag.
Six minutes were added onto the end of the game, and in the fifth of those, Nakhi Wells was again denied by the staunch Rovers defence, after the Bermudan saw the final attempt of the game blocked, as full-time soon followed.
It felt like a game of four quarters, rather than two halves, as Rovers put in a rollercoaster of a performance without really wowing any of the spectators who had made their way down from Lancashire. With the first-half a complete write-off due to how deep and compact Rovers were, they ended the first 45 minutes without even a shot on goal, which was a cause for concern at the break. The first 15 minutes of the second-half, however, showed that Rovers were capable of putting a decent performance together with some flowing and positive football that led to the goal and a couple of good chances, yet the final thirty minutes of the game showed Rovers at their tentative worst compiled by the fact that the most experienced player in the team was dismissed, leaving the rest of the team to hang on for dear life, despite escaping with a draw. Whilst it was not the pristine reaction fans were hoping for, a draw is a fair result based on the overall balance of play.
The draw does leave Rovers inside the playoff spots, as they sit 4th with 43 points from 28 games played, despite remaining on a negative -4 goal difference.
Rovers now have home comforts to look forward to, as they prepare to host Birmingham City next Saturday (28th January) in the FA Cup Fourth Round at 3pm. Following that tie, they welcome Wigan Athletic on Monday 6th February in an 8pm clash controlled by Sky Sports prior to a trip to Hertfordshire, where Watford are the opponents at 3pm, on Saturday 11th February.