MATCH REPORT 2022/23: Norwich City 0 – 1 Blackburn Rovers

MATCH REPORT 2022/23: Norwich City 0 – 1 Blackburn Rovers

Rovers advanced to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, for the first time since 2016-17, after a resolute defensive performance and some alert attacking saw them beat Norwich City at Carrow Road for the second time in three weeks.

With Rovers unbeaten so far from their one game in 2023, which came in last Saturday’s 1-0 home victory over Cardiff City, Jon Dahl Tomasson made half a dozen changes to his side for this FA Cup Third Round fixture back at Carrow Road. Aynsley Pears, Hayden Carter, Scott Wharton, Lewis Travis, Dilan Markanday & Jack Vale all came into the team, whilst youngster Harry Leonard was making his first appearance in a first-team squad.

As both sides made their way out onto the Carrow Road turf, there was a sense of anticipation building amongst the home fans, who were introduced to their new manager ahead of the kick-off. Former Schalke 04 and Huddersfield Town manager, David Wagner was their new choice to take over from the dismissed Dean Smith, with the German-born American receiving a warm reception from the home fans, prior to Teemu Pukki’s kick-off, which came after referee Gavin Ward’s whistle.

Although the home side started the brighter, disaster struck for Rovers after just nine minutes when they were forced to make an early defensive change after Scott Wharton went down with a head injury. Luckily, Ashley Phillips was a more than competent replacement for the Rovers number 16.

In the 12th minute, Rovers managed to get a corner, which they played short before creating a better crossing angle for Bradley Dack. The playmaker’s back-post ball fell to Ben Brereton Díaz who did well to get the ball under control before seeing his effort blocked.

Aynsley Pears was soon called into action to deny former Rovers skipper, Grant Hanley in the 17th minute, after a Norwich corner was diverted towards goal by the Norwich captain’s head, but tipped over by Rovers’ stand-in goalie.

Max Aarons became the first player to be booked in the tie, after he infringed upon Jack Vale.

Vale nearly became a provider in the 27th minute as he teed up Lewis Travis, but the Rovers captain’s long-ranger was deflected behind for a Rovers corner, that Norwich cleared.

Onel Hernández and Teemu Pukki looked to combine, but the Fin failed to keep his attempt down, underneath the crossbar.

The breakthrough finally came in the game, as Norwich City put things on a plate for Rovers, by gifting them a glorious chance that they couldn’t pass up. The home side’s insistence on playing out from the back cost them as Tim Krul dallied on the ball enough for Dilan Markanday force him into laying the ball to Grant Hanley, who made the error of delivering a short back-pass back to his keeper. The alert Bradley Dack nipped in and played the ball across goal to an unmarked Jack Vale, who had half of the net to aim for, as he slotted Rovers ahead at 1-0 in the 31st minute.

Hernández looked to use his pace to break free down the left before finding Gabriel Sara lurking in the box. The Brazilian looked to try and level the scoring, but a fantastic save by Pears, down to his right, kept Rovers in the game.

As half-time loomed, Gavin Ward added four extra minutes onto the end of the first-half, which nearly saw Rovers double their lead.

In the final minute of the allocated time, Ben Brereton Díaz broke away down the right and managed to fashion himself a perfect opportunity by cutting inside onto his left-foot and taking out both, his trailing defender and Tim Krul, but the Chilean somehow managed to hit the back of the home stand, rather than the back of the net, as everyone connected with Rovers put their hands to their heads in disbelief, as the half-time whistle went immediately after.

David Wagner would have been frustrated with the number of chances that his new side had given away on the transition, despite their overall dominance of the ball. The former promotion-winning boss would have wanted his side to try and be more aware of the threats that Rovers carried, whilst also trying to be more clinical with the number of chances that they had created.

Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been satisfied with his side, but would have been wincing over the amount of chances they had allowed Norwich to create. The boss would have been annoyed at the early defensive change, but would have been pleased with how Phillips had settled. Furthermore, the pressing and intensity that Rovers showed for the opener would have also had the boss beaming.

As the sides returned for the second-half, it was Rovers who got the game back underway through Bradley Dack, as Rovers were looking to get into the FA Cup Fourth Round for the first-time since 2016-17, where they were knocked out by Manchester United at Ewood Park, in Owen Coyle’s final game in-charge.

Dack & Brereton Díaz combined early on in the second period, but Andrew Omobamidele did enough to deflect the Chilean’s effort into the path of Krul for a simple save.

Teemu Pukki tried to get his side into the game by trying his luck from 20 yards, but Aynsley Pears comfortably held the attempt.

Marcelino Núñez tried his luck in the 51st minute, but saw his shot deflect into the palms of Pears via the back of Dack.

Hayden Carter was booked in the 53rd minute for time-wasting over a throw-in.

Pears was again called into action, three minutes after the booking as Onel Hernández’s low strike was well held by the Rovers shot-stopper.

David Wagner looked to his bench in the 56th minute and made a triple change as Danel Sinani, Kieran Dowell and Jordan Hugill replaced Marcelino Núñe, Onel Hernández and Adam Idah.

Aynsley Pears, who was surely a shoe-in for Player of the Match was again called upon after Max Aarons tried his luck, but the goalie was on-hand to only concede a corner, which Rovers cleared.

In the 68th minute, Rovers made a double change as Joe Rankin-Costello and Ryan Hedges came on for Hayden Carter and goalscorer, Jack Vale.

Ashley Phillips, despite not being old enough to even wear ‘Totally Wicked’ on his shirt, showed incredibly maturity and game awareness by intercepting a through ball by Teemu Pukki in the Rovers box to deny the Canaries a tap-in.

Jordan Hugilll was booked in the 73rd minute after fouling Bradley Dack.

The subsequent free-kick, taken by Dack, was nearly turned in by former Rover Grant Hanley as it deflected out for a corner via the far-post.

Jake Garrett soon tried to notch his first goal for the club by trying his luck from range, but Tim Krul was on-hand to save the attempt.

Dilan Markanday was adding to his impressive game so far, by trying to notch Rovers’ second goal, but Krul again denied Rovers.

David Wagner’s final two changes came in the 81st minutes as Sam McCallum and Liam Gibbs replaced Dimitris Giannoulis and Gabriel Sara.

From the restart after the changes, Hugill again looked to try and level the scoring, but Aynsley Pears was determined to keep his clean-sheet intact, as he held the former Preston North End forward’s effort.

Again, Pears thwarted Hugill as the goalie tipped over the attacker’s header in the 83rd minute, which came from Danel Sinani’s corner.

Rovers soon made their fourth, and what turned out to be final, change of the game as Tyler Morton came on to replace Bradley Dack in the closing moments.

Gavin Ward decided to try and give Norwich City all the time in the world to try and get back into the game by adding five extra minutes onto the end of the tie, as the home side continued to pile bodies forward and bombard the Rovers goal with attempts.

In the 92nd minute, the Canaries worked their way towards the Rovers penalty area, as Sinani tried his luck but saw his effort deflected behind which started a series of corners that kept Rovers under pressure, as even the towering presence of Tim Krul came forwards to try and salvage an equaliser, but Rovers managed to hold first throughout added time to book themselves a ticket into the Fourth Round for the first time in six years.

The tie showed that the fringe players that Rovers have been rotating throughout the season were match fit enough to play at a high standard and were also able to take their chance when offered the opportunity. The use of internal games and the rotation during the Carabao Cup run has helped those who have been starved of league game time to flourish, such as Aynsley Pears and Dilan Markanday, to name a couple, who proved their pedigree throughout both cups this season.

With Rovers now in the hat for the Fourth Round, they have been offered a home draw against either, League One side, Forest Green Rovers, or fellow Championship side, Birmingham City, who will play in a few days after their originally scheduled fixture, on Saturday was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Rovers’ fixture against either will be played on the weekend of 27th-30th January.

Rovers are back in league action next Saturday as they travel to Rotherham United on 14th January for an early 12:30pm kick-off, courtesy of Sky Sports. Following that tie, Saturday 21st January sees Rovers head down to Ashton Gate to face Bristol City for the 3pm start, before returning home for the FA Cup Fourth Round fixture, once the exact date is decided.