‘Frustration’ was how most fans described their Saturday night viewing as Rovers failed to break down a sturdy Hull City defence, as Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side’s aspirations of securing a playoff spot took a hit.
After rescuing a point in Easter Monday’s 2-2 draw against relegation-threatened, Huddersfield Town, Rovers came into this game high on confidence after their late heroics, looking to match results elsewhere and get themselves back into the playoffs, after scores elsewhere saw Rovers drop down to 7th before this evening’s start.
Jon Dahl Tomasson made one change from the start of the week as Sam Gallagher returned to the team at the expense of Adam Wharton, who dropped to the bench, as Rovers reverted to a 4-2-3-1 system. Sorba Thomas also returned to the matchday squad, as he was available from the bench after being ineligible versus his parent club on Easter Monday.
Ewood Park was ready and packed, as Sky Sports honed their cameras in on a stadium they will be visiting four more times before the season is over. As John Busby put the whistle to his lips for this strange 7:45pm kick-off on a Saturday, it was Rovers who got the final second tier game of the weekend underway.
Rover started rather brightly, as after just three minutes, Sam Gallagher fed through Lewis Travis who saw his cutback in the area cleared, despite a shot potentially being a better option.
The 13th minute brought about the game’s second opportunity at goal as Rovers quickly flipped the ball from back to front as Tyrhys Dolan sped forwards and brought the ball under his spell on the edge of the area before teeing up Joe Rankin-Costello who failed to score in back-to-back league games for the first time in this career.
Ben Brereton Díaz possessed the ball three minutes later, as he charged towards goal and despite having passing options either side of him, he went for goal himself from outside the area, but Karl Darlow proved equal to the attempt.
Hull soon found themselves up the field and crafting their own chance, after 23 minutes. Regan Slater tried his luck from range, but Aynsley Pears could only flap at the low shot, which spun behind for a corner, that Rovers cleared.
Dolan tried his luck with a curling effort in the 29th minute, but the former Preston North End youth winger couldn’t beat Darlow, who produced a simple save.
After Brereton Díaz won possession back, he found Dolan, yet again, Rovers failed to hit the target, as Dolan’s effort edged just wide of the near upright.
Half-hearted appeals from the home contingency appeared in the 36th minute, as Brereton Díaz was seemingly clipped by Allahyar Sayyadmanesh, but John Busby waved the shouts away.
A Rovers corner in the 40th minute was cleared as far as Tyler Morton, but the Liverpool loanee’s audacious outside of the foot effort deflected behind for another set-piece, which was dealt with by the Hull City defence, as after one minute of time that was added passed with no threat to either goal, John Busby brought the first 45 minutes to its conclusion.
Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been frustrated that his side had failed to find the back of the net with the few chances they had created. Whilst they had had the majority of the game in the first period, the boss would have expected his side to produce more quality than they had shown, both in the first-half and since the international break ended. He would have called on them to continue their domination of the ball and try to fashion an opening that would go a long way to aiding their own aspirations of extending their season into mid-May.
Liam Rosenior would have seen a lot of positives from his side, in that they had managed to quell one of the best home teams in the division and restricted their hosts from netting. He would have also been happy with his team’s counter-attacking opportunities, despite not netting themselves. Whilst Hull had recently come off the back of a pulsating 4-4 draw with Sunderland and a 1-0 home victory over Millwall, the former Tigers defender would have wanted his side to aim for a second consecutive clean-sheet in the second period.
Once both sides returned to the Ewood Park pitch, it was the visitors who got the game back underway for the second 45 minutes of the evening, as they looked to further climb away from the relegation zone, despite entering the tie, ten points clear of the drop zone.
Straight from kick-off, Hull nearly got ahead, as after Adama Traoré slipped though Regan Slater, the ex-Sheffield United midfielder fired his attempt wildly wide of Pears’ near-post.
Allahyar Sayyadmanesh and Harry Pickering entered a battle of strength in the 52nd minute after the Iranian was played through on goal. After some hesitation between the Rovers defence and Pears, the attacker got the better of Pickering, before poking the ball across the face of goal and just past the far-post. In the process, Sayyadmanesh caught Pickering’s face with a trailing boot, forcing Rovers to play the next couple of minutes with 10 men, as the defender was treated.
The lack of organisation in Pickering’s absence showed moments later, as Rovers passed themselves into trouble, as Hayden Carter’s poor first-touch saw him forced to bring down Ozan Tufan on the edge of the area, which earnt the defender a booking.
Luckily for Carter, Jean Michaël Seri’s subsequent free-kick lacked the dip from close-range to test Pears and force the goalie into a save as the ball entered the Darwen End.
The 62nd minute saw Rovers burst forwards, as Pickering found eventual club sponsor’s Player pf the Match. Sammie Szmodics, but the sole goalscorer in the reverse fixture couldn’t match his previous strike, as the ball was dragged wide.
Moments later, Hull got the ball up the other end as Traoré tried to strike from distance, but his accuracy wasn’t as high as his ambition.
Tyrhys Dolan picked up the ball on the edge of the area in the 67th minute and tried to be the difference maker between the two sides, but his own effort was similar to that of Traoré’s, as it also lacked the required accuracy to excite the home support.
Hull City soon made their first change of the game in the 69th minute, as Dimitrios Pelkas replaced Allayar Sayyadmanesh.
Rovers liked the idea of substitutions so much, that they made two of their own in the 72nd minute, as Ryan Hedges and Sorba Thomas came on for Tyrhys Dolan – who was awarded ‘Player of the Match’ by Sky Sports and Ben Brereton Díaz.
Hull again looked to their bench, two minutes after Rovers made a change, with Greg Docherty replacing Ozan Tufan.
Rovers continue to huff and puff in the 76th minute, as Ryan Hedges was slid in, yet his cut back towards the centre of the area was intercepted and cleared for a corner that was cleared.
As Rovers continued to pile the pressure on with very little cutting edge to frighten Hull City or Karl Darlow between the posts, a triple change in the 85th minute saw Callum Brittain, Adam Wharton and Harry Leonard introduced, as Joe Rankin-Costello, Lewis Travis and Sam Gallagher all departed.
Meanwhile, Hull made their own swaps with Xavier Simons and Malcom Ebiowei replaced Jean Michaël Seri and 19-year-old debutant – and once apparent Rovers target – Harry Vaughan, who had impressed in his first Championship game.
Moments after the changes, Dimitrios Pelkas was booked for infringing upon Ryan Hedges.
With the home support getting agitated, the 90th minute ticked over as five extra minutes were allocated onto the end of the game, as Rovers continued to try and force the ball over the line and match the results of their playoff rivals, earlier in the day.
Ryan Hedges looked to make a late impact, just as he had done on Monday, as his 93rd minute low cross towards the back-post only needed a stud to give Rovers what would certainly be three points, but the boot of Harry Leonard was just narrowly out of reach, as the ball rolled behind for a goal-kick.
As the game drew to an incredibly anti-climactic conclusion, there was still time for one more chance in the 94th minute, after Karl Darlow was booked for time-wasting during a goal-kick. Rovers recycled a corner which saw Harry Leonard slip through Sorba Thomas who made a run through the inside channel on the right, yet the on-loan winger closed the game out with a shot that crashed into the side-netting, as Ewood Park collectively deflated into a moan, as the final whistle soon followed.
Rovers have ultimately made things hard for themselves, in typical Rovers fashion, with five games of the season left to go. This tie was a huge opportunity to try and create a gap between themselves and the teams below them in the table, who had won earlier in the day. Rovers now do not play a team underneath 8th position in the table, in their five remaining games, meaning that Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side will have to find a cure to their scoring drought – no goals in three of the last four – otherwise they could be stalling at the most important point in the campaign – a feeling we all unfortunately, know too well.
Speaking of the table, Rovers have moved up to 6th position, despite not winning tonight. They had started the day in the playoff positions, but Coventry’s 3-0 win away at Queens Park Rangers temporarily put Mark Robins’ men in the final playoff berth. Rovers have 63 points, but a negative goal-difference of -2 from their 41 games played.
On the topic of Coventry City, they are Rovers’ next opponents. The Sky Blues will travel to Ewood Park on Wednesday 19th April for the 7:45pm kick-off, for a game in-front of the Sky Sports cameras, that will probably be the biggest confidence booster of the season for the winner and the biggest nail in the coffin to the playoff aspirations of the loser. Following that clash with Mark Robins’ side, two Lancashire derbies appear on the schedule, with Rovers set to make the short trip to Deepdale – with the Sky Sports cameras – for the 5:30pm kick-off on Saturday 22nd April in another potential playoff decider, with Jon Dahl Tomasson looking to avenge the 4-1 defeat from December, before the Dane looks to seek further revenge on the biggest foe of all, as already promoted Burnley and a measly away contingency of 2,000 arrive at Ewood Park on Tuesday 25th April, for the 8pm bout.