Rovers saw their playoff aspirations take another blow at the hands of their bitter rivals, Burnley. Despite Rovers having the better of the game, the contest was ultimately decided by two moments – one of quality and one of controversy – as a Manuel Benson winner saw Vincent Kompany’s team crowned division champions.
After Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side were dealt disappointment in their 1-1 draw with Preston North End, after the Lilywhites equalised in the 95th minute, the boss made two changes for the Tuesday night game, with one being enforced. Ryan Hedges came into the team after his eventful weekend at Deepdale, as Sorba Thomas dropped to the bench, but the enforced change saw Tyler Morton’s season ended early courtesy of a fractured foot, as Ben Brereton Díaz came in for his 150th career league start. These changes saw Sammie Szmodics drop back and support academy graduate Adam Wharton and skipper, Lewis Travis – who himself was making his 200th appearance – in the midfield three. There were also milestones for Joe Rankin-Costello and Tyrhys Dolan who both racked up half a century of league starts in their careers.
With the home support riled up and ready for kick-off as the Sky Sports cameras honed in on Ewood Park, it was Sammie Szmodics who got the game underway, as Rovers looked to try and earn their first victory over their bitter rivals since 2010.
A feisty affair began with both sets of supporters up for the game, as there were many tackles flying in that referee Tim Robinson let slide, yet the game lacked any real goalmouth action from either side, as Burnley’s attempt to annex possession was constantly interrupted by the pressing of Rovers’ forwards during the first 20 minutes.
It wasn’t until the 24th minute before the home fans could edge forwards in anticipation of an opportunity at goal. Rovers did well to work the ball forwards before a cross was aimed centrally. Tyrhys Dolan managed to wriggle away from his marker and fashion a headed attempt at goal, but the number 10’s effort lacked the power to test Arijanet Muric.
Despite the gap in the standings, Rovers were looking the better team in the encounter, as they again created the game’s second chance just after half an hour, as Ryan Hedges’ corner was narrowly nodded wide by the incoming Joe Rankin-Costello.
The first booking of the derby game surprisingly came after 35 minutes as visiting skipper, Josh Brownhill was cautioned after bringing down the impressive Adam Wharton. Rovers looked to try and take advantage of the set-piece by playing it quickly, but Sammie Szmodics’ effort from range was blocked behind for a corner.
Again, Rovers looked to catch their opponents out quickly from a set-piece as the corner somehow found its way to Dominic Hyam whose instinctive swipe was denied by Muric.
Just before the break, one minute of time was added onto the end of the first-half, as both sides lacked a real cutting edge to their game, as the game was paused soon after.
Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been very pleased with how his young side had taken the game to the league leaders. The Dane, who played in some of the most ferocious derbies as a player, would have been fully aware of what the game meant to the home support, especially after the previous encounter prior to the World Cup. Tomasson would have been full of praise for his side for their ability to rattle the visitors, but would have been urging them to try and find a moment of quality.
Vincent Kompany would have been scratching his head as to how his side had been under the cosh for most of the first period. The Belgian would have called on his players to return the favour in the second-half in an attempt to win a sixth straight game against the Blues.
As both sides returned to the field, it was the visitors who got the game back underway as they looked to give their reduced allocation of supporters something to shout about, come full-time.
Rovers continued where they left off in the first-half, in the 47th minute, by attempting to unnerve the Clarets as Joe Rankin-Costello was booked for bringing down Anass Zaroury.
Moments later, Muric was forced into another save as Szmodics flicked Hedges’ cross towards goal, but the former Manchester City shot-stopper again denied the hosts the lead.
A third booking of the game soon materialised as Tim Robinson booked Josh Cullen for hauling down Ben Brereton Díaz in the 53rd minute.
Rovers again piled the pressure forwards as the Clarets looked completely shocked by the intensity and pace with which their hosts played, as Rankin-Costello’s cross was intercepted by Dolan and nodded into the hands of Muric, despite Hedges lurking in a better position behind the 21-year-old attacker.
The 57th minute saw another yellow card as the heat of the game was lifted due to the intensity from both players and supporters. Ian Maatsen was cautioned after pulling Hedges, as Rovers were unable to take advantage of the set-piece.
Vincent Kompany turned towards his bench just before the hour as Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson and Vitinho were replaced by Jack Cork and Manuel Benson.
Benson wasted no time in tying the Rovers defence up in knots, as three minutes after coming on, he forced Harry Pickering into the book, as the defender fouled the winger, meaning that both Rovers full-backs were now on yellow carsd.
Controversy struck in the 65th minute as Rovers were adamant that Burnley should have been reduced to 10-men, after substitute Jack Cork’s dangerous lunge on halfway left Dolan in a heap. Cork, who had evaded a yellow card moments after coming on, had scythed down the Rovers attacker in an uncontrollable fashion, but Robinson the referee didn’t deem it dangerous enough to warrant an early bath.
On that decision, the momentum of the game turned in favour of the visitors, as after their changes and good fortune with the tackle, a moment of inspiration from substitute Manuel Benson saw the Premier League-bound side capitalise on a mistake by Hayden Carter on halfway. The defender dribbled the ball out from the back, but dallied on halfway and turned possession over. That led to a counter as Cork fed Benson who drove at Pickering, who was unable to engage due to his booking. That hesitancy gave Benson the half-a-yard of space he needed to drop a shoulder and curl the ball into the top corner, beyond Aynsley Pears to put the away team 1-0 up.
In the 75th minute, Jon Dahl Tomasson made a triple change in a desperate attempt to try and salvage something from the game and potentially their season. Callum Brittain, Sorba Thomas and Bradley Dack all came on to replace the booked Harry Pickering, Ryan Hedges and Tyrhys Dolan.
Rovers continued to push forwards as Burnley seemed as if they were on the ropes, as the home attacking talent streamed ahead. The Claret shot-stopper Muric attempted to take the Rovers sting out of the game by taking his time over set-pieces, goal-kicks and his catches, but Tim Robinson eventually booked him in the 82nd minute for timewasting.
Rovers’ fourth and final change of the game came in the 84th minute as Harry Leonard replaced Lewis Travis, with Dominic Hyam assuming the responsibility of the captain’s armband.
As the 90th minute ticked over on the clock, the referee added on a minimum of four minutes of time that was soon extended due to a number of scuffles, time-wasting and idiotic pitch invaders that decided to make themselves the centre of attention.
In the 93rd minute, Rovers worked the ball out wide to Brereton Díaz who fed Szmodics. Saturday’s goalscorer looked to pick out a Blue and White shirt in the middle, but Charlie Taylor’s near-post intervention narrowly avoided an own goal, as a corner was given.
Controversy then struck in the 95th minute, after Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Jay Rodriguez had replaced Ian Maatsen and Anass Zaroury, for the visitors, as a deep Rovers corner was turned back into the box by Callum Brittain, but the outstretched arm of Ashley Barnes denied the ball from running across the face of goal. Despite all 11 players in Blue and White appealing as did the crowd, Tim Robinson and his officiating team waved play on, as the final whistle soon followed.
As the Rovers players were applauded off the field for their fantastic display – whilst their opponents celebrated long into the night – they ultimately fell short of the required result(s), both on the night and since the international break and have blown the race for the playoffs wide open.
Rovers have dropped to 8th and have 65 points from 44 games, but have an incredibly inferior goal-difference to their rivals at -3. After Millwall’s 3-2 victory over Blackpool on Friday night, anything less than a victory in Rovers’ final home game will put them in serious doubt ahead of the final day clash with Millwall, due to the goal-difference swing.
Speaking of Rovers’ next game, they will welcome already playoff-bound Luton Town to Ewood Park in-front of the Sky Sports cameras on the Bank Holiday Monday (1st May) at 5:30pm, before travelling to The Den for a final day face-off against Millwall on Monday 8th May at 3pm, in a ‘do or die’ final two games for Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side.