Blackburn Rovers made it 11 game unbeaten, as a performance packed with heart, desire and passion saw them turnover the Premier League-chasing Blades, to close the gap to the Yorkshire side to six points.
After Tuesday night’s FA Cup heroics against Premier League Leicester City, where Rovers ran out 2-1 victors at the King Power Stadium, any player not in today’s starting team would have found themselves unfortunate, but Jon Dahl Tomasson elected to make two changes from Tuesday. John Buckley and Sorba Thomas returned to start against the Blades, as Tyler Morton and Ryan Hedges dropped to the bench. There was also a return to the matchday squad for Ben Brereton Díaz, who had spent the last three games either injured or suspended. Sammie Szmodics was celebrating a fine individual week by making his 200th career league start, whilst Tyrhys Dolan joined him in continuing the celebrations by making his 100th Rovers league appearance.
As the build-up and noise around Ewood Park increased, both sides entered the pitch looking to assert their dominance over the other as the away side readied themselves to start the game once referee Josh Smith got the thumbs up from the Sky Sports cameras.
It only took five minutes for Ewood Park to erupt into delightful delirium, as the most unlikeliest of goalscoring sources, in Harry Pickering, managed to net his first goal of the campaign following a devastating counter-attack by Rovers. After the visitors saw their optimistic appeal for a handball on John Buckley in the Rovers box, waved away by Mr. Smith, Rovers turned on the afterburners. Sorba Thomas skipped past one and fed Sammie Szmodics down the right who was in acres of space. The winner in midweek stormed into the United box before picking out Tyrhys Dolan with a fine pass. The other goalscorer in midweek offered a beautiful disguised pass into the feet of the overlapping Pickering who dispatched a brilliant finish into the far corner, past Wes Foderingham for 1-0.
The 10th minute nearly saw Sander Berge equalise for the visitors, but the Norwegian’s effort went straight down the throat of Aynsley Pears, who made a comfortable save.
United continued to up their ante as Berge again tried to wriggle inside the box and find a teammate, but was denied by Dominic Hyam who intercepted the cross-box ball.
Pears was again called into action in the 20th minute as an attempt from a Blades corner deflected off Dom Hyam as Pears got down quickly to deny the visitors the equaliser.
Rovers remained under pressure and were attacking exclusively via counters as John Fleck saw his own effort well-blocked by Lewis Travis, as the Blades upped their pressure heading into the second part of the first period.
The 24th minute nearly saw the equaliser as Chris Basham went on a marauding run where he nutmegged one Rovers player and bulldozed past another, before his final effort was weak and easily claimed by Pears.
Tyrhys Dolan nearly grabbed himself his third goal in four games as Sorba Thomas cut the ball back for the winger, who tried to find the inside of the near-post but saw his right-footed effort crash back off the post.
As the Blades continued to push, the 38th minute saw Oli McBurnie pop up in the Rovers box to get on the end of a visiting cross, but he couldn’t angle his nod towards goal, as Pears saw the ball wide.
The 45th minute came as did one extra minute of time onto the end of the second period but neither side managed to fashion one final opportunity before Josh Smith brought the first-half to a close.
Jon Dahl Tomasson’s smile would have been very wide during the break, as his side had produced a fantastic goal, utilising all of their quality before breaching the Sheffield United defence. The boss would have called on his team to continue their fine defensive display and concentration, due to the nature of the quality the Blades possessed.
Paul Heckingbottom, who was in the press box serving the second touchline ban of three in total, would have been fuming with the lack of attacking quality his side had shown, especially givenm how easily Rovers had torn them apart on the break. Whilst the Blades had managed to fashion a number of opportunities in the first period, they had lacked the quality they had shown on Wednesday against Tottenham Hotspur.
Once both sides returned to the pitch, it was Rovers who got the game back underway, as went in search of their second win in the space of a week.
Chris Basham became the first player to be booked, as he fouled Tyrhys Dolan in the 48th minute.
Rovers began the second-half brightly, as they sustained a prolonged period of pressure during the opening stages of the second period, with multiple corners and set-pieces forcing the Blades to clear their lines, before John Buckley pounced on a loose ball and sent the ball into the Blackburn End to dissolve the pressure on the visitors.
Sam Gallagher picked up the ball on the wing in the 61st minute as he cut inside to find Sammie Szmodics, in almost a carbon copy move of the second goal against Leicester City on Tuesday, but unlike in the FA Cup, Szmodics’ effort was blocked by a defender.
The pair combined moments later, as Gallagher’s knockdown to Szmodics saw the midweek winner try a delicate side-footed lob from outside the box, but his effort came back off the crossbar, before the Blades cleared their lines.
Paul Heckingbottom signalled for his backroom staff below to make a change, as James McAtee and George Baldock replaced Jayden Bogle and John Fleck in the 63rd minute.
A third change wasn’t far behind as Ben Osborn replaced Max Lowe, two minutes later.
Rovers thought that Chris Basham should have been given his marching orders as the defender went in late on Dolan, but despite the protests from the home side, Basham escaped without a second yellow card.
Another fantastic Rovers move in the 66th minute saw Dolan sneak into the penalty area, but again Rovers saw their efforts blocked and cleared as Sheffield United’s backs were firmly against the wall, as the home side willed their heroes forwards.
Oliver Norwood was the next to be booked by Josh Smith, as he scythed down Dolan on halfway.
Sammie Szmodics was the first Rovers to see yellow as he brough down McAtee before some argie-bargie between the sides ensued, as the game evolved into a scrappy affair.
The deep free-kick fell to Sander Berge who tried a first-time effort, despite having more time than he thought, but luckily for Rovers, the Norwegian’s effort was hooked over the crossbar.
A Sheffield United corner in the 73rd minute was cleared as far as Jack Robinson, who saw his attempt from range deflected towards goal by the outstretched boot of Oli McBurnie, but Aynsley Pears was alert to hold the effort.
United’s pressure continued as a corner was nodded towards goal by John Egan, but the ball dropped onto the roof of the net.
The 76th minute brought the visitor’s final two changes as Billy Sharp and Tommy Doyle came in to replace Chris Basham and Ollie Norwood, as the Blades looked to go more attacking in the closing stages.
Sam Gallagher was booked moments after the changes for causing some havoc on halfway.
Rovers dipped into their bench on the 82nd minute as Ryan Hedges and Ben Brereton Díaz came on for the final moments as Sorba Thomas and Tyrhys Dolan departed.
As the Blades pushed for a late equaliser, John Egan was booked for hauling down Sam Gallagher in the 89th minute.
The clock hit 90 minutes, as five additional minutes were held aloft by the fourth official, but the play did not continue as a medical emergency was attended to in the lower part of the Jack Walker stand. We hope those affected are safe and well!
Despite the Blade’s late pressure, Rovers managed to inflict one last counter-attack on the visitors, as Sam Gallagher burst forwards and saw his deflected effort saved by the gloves of Foderingham, as the Rovers faithful called for the referee to bring an end to the game, which he duly did moments later.
It’s getting to the point where one is running out of words to describe this team with. The passion, desire, work-rate & skill that this young, injury-hit group of lads are showing is outstanding and full credit to them for their performances across two fronts. Further credit must be attributed to Jon Dahl Tomasson and his coaching staff for managing the workloads of each individual player appropriately, to prevent injuries at a crucial time in the campaign, when so many players are already out. Today’s game showed how crucial Ewood Park is for the side, as the home crowd, buoyant from Tuesday night, continued to back the team as they helped them over the line in the late stages of the game to secure three crucial points.
As Rovers were the early kick-off on Saturday, the three points saw them temporarily move into 3rd place, ahead of Middlesbrough’s clash with Reading, that was set to kick-off at 3pm. Jon Dahl Tomasson’s men, after 35 games, have 58 points and a positive goal-difference of +1.
The fun doesn’t stop there for Rovers, as the fixtures continue to pile on during this busy schedule. Next up for the Blues is a trip to Stoke City for Friday night’s Sky Sports offering. Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side make the trip on the 10th March for the 8pm kick-off that will be beamed on the box. After that tie, Rovers return to Ewood Park to host Paul Ince’s Reading on Wednesday 15th March for the 7:45pm game before rivalries are renewed with Paul Heckingbottom’s Blades in the FA Cup on Sunday 19th March. That fight for Wembley, which will be a midday kick-off, will be shown live on ITV.