MATCH REPORT 2022/23: Stoke City 3 – 2 Blackburn Rovers

MATCH REPORT 2022/23: Stoke City 3 – 2 Blackburn Rovers

A late rally in the final ten minutes wasn’t enough for Blackburn Rovers to overcome the ‘Stoke stereotype’ as Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side suffered their first defeat in 11 games on the freezing cold Friday night Sky Sports showing of the tie.

Following Saturday’s well-deserved 1-0 victory over FA Cup Quarter Final opponents, Sheffield United at Ewood Park, which was also in view of the Sky Sports cameras, Jon Dahl Tomasson named an unchanged side for the third time this season, ahead of their Friday night trip to the Potteries, as the Dane looked to continue his team’s fine form against a side who scored five against Sunderland, on Saturday. Lewis Travis, who was skippering the side, was set to make his 150th career league start, all of which came in the Blue and White halves of Rovers. The revived Joe Rankin-Costello was also racking up half a century of starts for the Lancashire side.

As over 2,000 Rovers fans made the bitterly cold journey to the infamous bet365 stadium, they were hoping to roar their team to victory in order to continue their fine form. With the Sky Sports cameras and commentary readying for the action, it was the home side who took the kick-off, following referee Matt Donohue’s whistle, as they looked to build on their 5-1 mauling of Sunderland.

Rovers started the brighter of the two sides as they managed to craft half a chance after three minutes, when the ball deflected into the air and came down on the edge of the box, but Joe Rankin-Costello’s effort skewed wide. Two minutes later, Sorba Thomas’ own effort was blocked, after Sammie Szmodics was boxed out before he could get an effort away.

Rovers were unable to make their early pressure count as Stoke streamed forwards in the 11th minute as Will Smallbone’s effort crashed back off the crossbar, leaving Rovers as rattled as the bar.

The home side continued their pressure, minutes later as Jacob Brown saw his effort deflected behind for a corner via Dominic Hyam, to which the home side failed to make count.

What they did make count, was their dominance in the 24th minute as Ki-Jana Hoever broke the deadlock with his second ever professional goal. After Joe Rankin-Costello conceded possession in the centre, Stoke broke down their left and occupied the right-back’s vacant space. The space opened up for a deep cross which led to Hoever – completely unmarked at the back stick – to tap Stoke into a 1-0 lead, via the head of Hayden Carter, who couldn’t clear off the line and diverted the ball into his own goal.

After 20 minutes of play which proved to exclusively be Stoke peppering and pressuring Rovers, including the forcing of mistakes by Aynsley Pears and a few of the defenders, Stoke and Hoever doubled their tallies for the evening in very similar fashion to the first goal. After Stoke saw an appeal for a penalty waved away, it was the same formula for Stoke as they recycled possession, as a deep cross from the left fell to the former Liverpool defender, who, this time, used his head to extend the Potters’ lead, as he again sneaked in at the back-post to make it 2-0.

As one minute of time was added onto the end of a shocking first period, Rovers were left frustrated after they saw an appeal for a clear penalty denied, as Dwight Gayle’s hands proved to be in an unnatural position, as he blocked a curling effort from Sammie Szmodics.

The protests continued as Mr. Donohue called time on a first-half that the travelling supporters will want to erase from their memories.

Stoke City’s dressing room would have been buoyant after a scintillating first 45 minutes. Alex Neil would have been full of praise for his side for their tenacity, work-rate and execution of his game plan that saw them take a two-goal advantage into the break. The former Preston North End boss, who has only lost to Rovers once in eight games, would have been calling on his side to continue their intensity to try and potentially replicate the five goals they scored in their last outing.

Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been fuming with his side’s showing, as they had produced the complete opposite of what the hosts had displayed. Whilst Rovers had started the game brightly in the opening 10 minutes, the young team who were on a high after beating Sheffield United, last weekend, were picking up the pieces of a dreadful performance.

Once the unchanged sides returned to the field for the second period, it was Rovers who got the game back underway, looking for a big second-half to try and salvage something for their loyal travelling fans.

Eight minutes into the second period and Lewis Travis nearly thought he’d reduced the deficit, as his long-range strike from just outside the box, zipped past the left-hand post, much to the dismay of the supporters behind Jack Bonham’s goal.

Jon Dahl Tomasson had seen enough by the hour mark, as he shuffled his pack with a triple change that saw Tyler Morton, Ryan Hedges and Ben Brereton Díaz enter the fray, replacing the injured John Buckley – who hobbled off – Sorba Thomas and Tyrhys Dolan.

Dujon Sterling was the first player to be booked in the 68th minute as he was cautioned for time-wasting over a throw-in.

From the throw, Lewis Travis intercepted and flicked the ball into the path of Szmodics who found Brereton Díaz. The Chilean nearly made an instant impact with his effort, but Stoke were on-hand to divert the ball behind for a corner. The set-piece found Szmodics, whose effort was blocked and cleared by the hosts.

Tyler Morton also saw yellow in the 74th minute after hauling down Will Smallbone.

Fouling players was a key feature that Rovers lacked, when Stoke strolled through their side and capped off a dismal night for the visitors, with a third goal, as Tyrese Campbell put the ‘cherry on the cake’ for the home fans by finishing the Blues off. After Josh Laurent somehow wriggled himself past four Rovers bodies from the corner flag, into the area, completely unchallenged, his pass into Smallbone was flicked into Campbell, who dealt the dagger with a low first-time finish into the bottom right-hand corner of the net for 3-0.

Before Rovers could restart the game, some activity appeared on the Stoke bench, as Josh Tymon replaced Dwight Gayle.

Ben Brereton Díaz was booked in the 79th minute for dissent against referee, Matt Donohue, before, four minutes later, Jacob Brown saw yellow for a late challenge on Harry Pickering.

As time flew by, Jon Dahl Tomasson’s last roll of the dice saw him swap Joe Rankin-Costello and Sammie Szmodics, for Callum Brittain and Jake Garrett.

Moments after coming on, Brittain notched an assist as Rovers reduced their arrears to two with the former Barnsley man delivering an outstanding cross to the back-post in the 86th minute – very similar to the home side’s deliveries that set up their first two goals – and Ben Brereton Díaz was on-hand to leap highest and nod home against his hometown club, as some belief sparked across the visiting supporters as the score ticked over to 3-1.

The drama didn’t stop there, as Rovers somehow found some energy and managed to make it 3-2, courtesy of a fine header from Sam Gallagher, that matched that of Brereton Díaz. This time, it was Harry Pickering who was delivering the assist from the opposite flank to Brittain, as the centred ball was met by the leaping Gallagher, who netted his seventh of the campaign.

Whilst the reduction of the deficit to one goal saw a spark light up inside the Rovers side, the rally proved too little, too late, as despite five minutes of time being added on by Mr. Donohue, Stoke did well to quell Rovers – who were the architects of their own downfall tonight – as the final whistle soon followed.

A dreadful performance for 85 minutes is the main takeaway from this Friday night clash. The team were clearly affected by the weather conditions, and froze when they were required to put in a shift that would have extended their unbeaten run to 12 games, yet cracked under the pressure of the television cameras – not for the first time this season. Whilst the fight back was admirable, it proved insignificant after they handed Stoke an insurmountable advantage, with the defending – or lack thereof – for the third goal, summing up Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side’s evening. A big reaction is needed for Reading in midweek, if Rovers want to keep some distance between themselves and falling out of a tightly contested top six.

Speaking of the top six, Rovers will remain there regardless of the results that appear over the course of Saturday and Sunday. Rovers are glued in 4th place with a – now neutral – goal-difference of zero from 36 games.

As highlighted, Reading are Rovers’ next opponents, as Paul Ince makes a return to Ewood Park on Wednesday 15th March for the 7:45pm start. After that tie, eyes turn to Wembley, as Jon Dahl Tomasson looks to become the first Rovers manager since x to take the Blue and White halves to Wembley. The Blues travel to Bramall Lane on Sunday 19th March for their Quarter-Final clash with Sheffield United that will be viewable on ITV1. Once their domestic cup future is decided, the side earn a well-deserved two-week rest for the international break, before they travel to the Midlands to face Birmingham City, for the third time this season, will be on the cards, as they travel to the Second City for the game at 3pm on April Fool’s Day.