It was New Year Blues in the new year for the Blues as Blackburn Rovers suffered their first defeat of the calendar year, as lowly Rotherham United’s hard work and slight fortune saw them take advantage of Rovers’ directionless play to claim their first victory – albeit deserved – since November, as Jon Dahl Tomasson was forced to solve a murder mystery at the New York.
After Rovers secured their place in the FA Cup Fourth Round last Sunday with a 1-0 win at Carrow Road over Norwich City, but Jon Dahl Tomasson made six changes from last weekend’s line-up. Thomas Kaminski, Daniel Ayala, Joe Rankin-Costello, Tyler Morton, Ryan Hedges and Sam Gallagher all returned to the side as Aynsley Pears, Hayden Carter, Scott Wharton, Lewis Travis, Dilan Markanday and Ben Brereton Díaz all dropped out of the side, with Rovers’ Chilean forward absent due to the imminent birth of his first child – Congratulations, Breo! Sam Gallagher was in line to make his 250th career appearance with today’s outing.
Just before Rotherham United got the game underway following Dean Whitestone’s whistle, there was a period of applause to pay tribute to Rotherham United fan, Retforth Hudspeth, who sadly passed away after being taken ill on the way back from the Miller’s trip to Huddersfield Town.
There’s ‘starting brightly’ and there’s ‘instant impact’ and the latter is exactly what Hakeem Odoffin did, as he netted his first goal in English league football after just 33 seconds of play had passed. Leeds United loanee Leo Hjelde burst down the left and put in a speculative cross towards the penalty spot which Dom Hyam failed to control as his loose touch fell straight into the path of Odoffin, who dispatched a terrific almost outside-of-the-boot first-time half-volley which beat Thomas Kaminski at his near-post, as the home crowd burst into early delight.
Rovers failed to muster up the opportunity to test Viktor Johansson until the 22nd minute as Joe Rankin-Costello tried to strike a left-footed effort, but he failed to keep his effort on target.
Six minutes later, Harry Pickering delivered an outstanding cross for Bradley Dack at the near-post to latch onto, but the attacker’s nod failed to curl inside the near-post.
Ryan Hedges and Jack Vale combined in the 35th minute, as the former set up the latter, but Vale’s attempt from range proved an easy catch for the Swede in the Rotherham goal.
Hedges again was a prime factor in a Rovers attacking move as some smooth passing ended with Dack threading Hedges through, but Viktor Johansson did brilliantly to rush out and smother Hedges’ attempt, as the Millers cleared the ball.
Just after two minutes of time were added onto the end of the first-half, Pickering delivered another cross into the Rotherham box, which saw Sam Gallagher try a slightly ambitious header, but the attempt lacked the power to test Johansson.
Gallagher’s attempt proved to be the last effort of the first period, as after some Rotherham pressure which failed to amount to anything, Dean Whitestone called the first-half to an end.
Rotherham United and Matty Taylor would have been delighted with their bright start and their defensive and goalkeeping efforts to deny Rovers a leveller before the break. The home side had lacked any real goal threat after the first five minutes or so, but showed great intensity, work-rate and resilience to remain strong defensively and patient, despite holding just 25% possession by the break.
Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been close to pulling his hair out after conceding such an early goal, but would have probably been satisfied with his side’s reaction, despite being frustrated in the manner of the goal. The Dane would have been trying to enthuse some composure into his side and remind them of their quality ahead of the second period. Bradley Dack’s liveliness in the first 45 minutes would have also been a point of praise for the boss.
As both sides re-emerged for the second period it was Rovers who got the game back underway, as they looked to try and avoid their first defeat of 2023 and attempt to secure their first victory away at Rotherham United since 2016.
After 52 minutes, Rotherham United managed to put some daylight between the two sides at 2-0, through Blackburn-born midfielder, Ollie Rathbone. After Rovers failed to clear their lines, the ball ricocheted around and fell to Rathbone who pulled out one of the best strikes of the season and potentially his career as he won the ball back and smashed an effort in from outside the box, that landed behind the line via the crossbar, as goal-line technology did its job and awarded Rathbone his third of the season.
Despite Dominic Hyam seemingly picking up an injury in the build-up to the goal, he remained on the field of play as Rovers made a double change, instead of a triple one. Dilan Markanday and Tyrhys Dolan brought fresh energy and pace to the wings, as Sam Gallagher and Ryan Hedges made way.
Hyam’s valiant attempt to continue playing was soon cut short as Ashley Phillips soon came onto replace the Rovers stand-in captain on the hour mark.
Ollie Rathbone added a yellow card to his match facts as he was booked in the 73rd minute after bringing down Dilan Markanday.
2-0 soon became 3-0 in the 76th minute as the ghost of Charlie Mulgrew appeared in the form of former Newcastle United player, Shane Ferguson who somehow managed to score directly from the corner, as some miscommunication between Rovers in the box saw the hosts treble their lead in spectacular, but lucky fashion.
Rotherham’s first change of the game came in the 80th minute as Richard Wood replaced Sean Morrison at the heart of the Millers defence as they looked to try and claim their first clean-sheet since their last victory away at Sheffield United.
The 89th minute saw Matt Taylor made a triple change as Wes Harding, Peter Kioso and Cohen Bramall all come on for Lee Peltier, Shane Ferguson and Leo Hjelde.
After five added minutes were added onto the end of the game by the fourth official and referee Dean Whitestone, Rotherham’s final change came in as Jamie Lindsay replaced the first goalscorere of the day, Hakeem Odoffin, whose goal seemingly came a week ago.
The fun for the Millers didn’t stop there, as they secured their second highest margin of victory over Rovers, since a 5-1 Rotherham victory in March 1955, after Conor Washington made it four and put the final nail in the Rovers coffin in the 94th minute. Rotherham again got the ball forwards as Rovers’ defence looked at sixes and sevens. Washington held the ball up well as he laid the ball out wide, before Daniel Barlaser took control of the situation on the edge of the area. The former Newcastle United man played a fantastic through ball into Washington, as two Rovers defenders were taken out the game, giving the former Peterborough United forward all the time in the world to turn and shoot to make it 4-0, as the ball tricked in off the inside of the far-post.
The goal proved to be the final act of the game as Dean Whitestone brought a monumental and potentially season-defining game for both sides, to a close.
We’re not going to beat around the bush here, Rovers were abysmal. Despite a flutter of hope towards the break, the Blues lacked any real attacking threat. Bradley Dack was arguably the best player in navy blue, but was unable to put the team on his back.
Every fan will be hoping that Gregg Broughton and Jon Dahl Tomasson can get the ball rolling with just over half of the January Transfer Window still open, so that Rovers can improve and bring some fresh blood into the club to try and revitalise the Ewood Park side’s promotion push.
As Rovers have played early this week, they still remain 3rd despite defeat, as they sit on 42 points from 27 games, but a negative goal-difference of -4 after today’s defeat.
Next up for Rovers is an away trip to Bristol City, on Saturday 21st January, at 3pm, before hosting either Birmingham City or Forest Green Rovers in the FA Cup Fourth Round at Ewood Park on Saturday 28th January at 3pm. Following what will hopefully be a busy transfer window & Deadline Day, February sees Rovers welcome Kolo Toure’s Wigan Athletic at 8pm on Monday 6th February, a game that Sky Sports will be showing.