A ‘Good Friday’ it was not for Blackburn Rovers and Jon Dahl Tomasson, as a bumper Ewood Park crowd of 18,544 witnessed only Rovers’ fifth league home defeat of the season which came against Norwich City, 2-0, as the gap between the Blues and the Canaries in the table was reduced to just one point.
Following a disappointing return against Birmingham City last time out, where Rovers fell to a 1-0 defeat at St. Andrew’s, Jon Dahl Tomasson made one change from last Saturday, as Ben Brereton Díaz returned to the starting side, after making a cameo appearance off the bench last time out. The attacker to drop out, was Tyrhys Dolan, who was available from the bench. Bradley Dack was ruled out of this tie, after picking up a knock in training, with Adam Wharton returning to the matochday squad in his place.
As the noise levels rose to a maximum ahead of Sammie Szmodics getting the game underway after Andre Marriner’s whistle, a sun-kissed Ewood Park welcomed its biggest crowd of the season, as Rovers looked to try and move seven points clear of the visitors, who occupied 7th place.
It was the visitors who flew out of the blocks first, as Onel Hernández let off an ambitious early attempt from distance after just three minutes, but his effort didn’t worry Aynsley Pears who saw it wide.
Who did worry Pears, was Canaries academy graduate, Liam Gibbs, who managed to break the deadlock after just 11 minutes as the attacker – who was in for the departing Teemu Pukki – made his mark in yellow and green by notching his first for City. Jacob Sørensen threaded the 20-year-old midfielder through with a first-time ball which the youngster latched onto, before baring down on goal and finding the top right-hand corner of the net, past the hesitant Pears to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead.
Rovers took a while to realise what had hit them, as in the 26th minute, Lewis Travis broke and tried to cause havoc with a cross into the Norwich box, but the cleared delivery fell to Szmodics whose effort was blocked and cleared by the visiting rearguard.
Pears was called into action in the 31st minute as he got down well to deny Max Aarons’ effort from distance.
Former Middlesbrough defender, Ben Gibson became the first player to see yellow – a booking that is – as he was cautioned by referee Marriner for hauling down Sam Gallagher after 34 minutes.
The 42nd minute saw Norwich City forced into their first change of the hot afternoon as former Rover and current City skipper, Grant Hanley required the stretcher after he went down inside his own box. The Scottish international departed to a smatter of applause from both fans before Andrew Omobamidele came on to replace him.
Omobamidele’s defensive partner, Gibson nearly added a second to the Canaries’ tally as the break drew near, but his nod from a Norwich corner was held by Pears.
That save proved to be the final act of a drab first-half, from Rovers’ perspective, as the first period was ended after four added minutes, with the home side failing to even muster a shot at goal and test Angus Gunn.
Jon Dahl Tomasson would not have been pleased with what he had seen Fromm his players inside the first 45 minutes. Their lack of urgency and accuracy on the ball and in-front of goal was offering flashbacks to previous games, mostly in the first-half of the campaign, were Rovers let multiple half-chances pass them by. The boss would have no doubt urged his side to be more clinical in the second-half and not let the game get away from them at such a crucial point in the campaign.
David Wagner, in the opposite dressing room would have been delighted with his side’s ability to hit the home side on the break. The German, who was eye a second promotion from the second tier of English football, after previously overseeing Huddersfield Town’s playoff win in 2017, would have been asking for more of the same from his team in the second period.
The second period was soon restarted by Norwich City, who were looking to extend their lead and see out the game and three points to drag themselves back into direct contention for the playoffs, whilst also unsettle a large home crowd.
‘Unsettle the home support’ is exactly what they did in the 55th minute, as Rovers’ defenders proved no match for Norwich’s counter-attack, finished by Brazilian, Gabriel Sara. Rovers conceded possession inside their own half, as Sørensen found Hernández, who slid Sara in behind the Rovers defence. The Brazilian, who was met with a tight angle, showed his class as he hit a first-time left-footed effort that swept across the face of goal and past Pears before nestling into the top right-hand of the Rovers net for 2-0, as the frustrations of the home fans became more vocal.
Rovers woke up after conceding a second, as two minutes after the restart, Ryan Hedges and Sam Gallagher combined, but the latter’s header from the former’s cross couldn’t trouble Gunn in the City net.
Gallagher was soon in a 58th minute melee after he scythed down Omobamidele, moments after the centre-half had hauled down the attacker. The pair were booked for their troubles.
Rovers soon made their first substitution of the game in the 64th minute as Sorba Thomas replaced Ryan Hedges. Norwich also made their own as Teemu Pukka came on to replace Ben Gibson, who was withdrawn due to injury, as Norwich shuffled their pack extensively and decided to see out the game exclusively via the counter-attack.
Despite Rovers’ efforts, the 73rd minute came before they were able to impact the scoreline, as Callum Britain and Adam Wharton were introduced for Joe Rankin-Costello and Tyler Morton.
Moments after their introduction, the substitutes combined via a one-two, but Wharton’s cross wasn’t met in the box by a Blue and White body, as the gloves of Gunn collected the ball mid-flight.
Arguably, Rovers’ best chance of the game came in the 79th minute, as a corner was nodded towards goal by Dom Hyam, before it was cleared off the line, virtually underneath the crossbar by a yellow body, before a Blue and White shirt could poke home. As both teams scrambled after the clearance, with Rovers recycling possession, calls came from the terraces after Sammie Szmodics believed his shot had been handled amidst being blocked, but the official Marriner, disagreed and waved play on.
Norwich made a double switch in the 82nd minute, as Adam Idah and Sam McCallum replaced Josh Sargent and Onel Hernández.
Rovers’ fourth and final change of the day came in the 83rd minute, as Jon Dahl Tomasson went ‘top-heavy’, by replacing Lewis Travis with Tyrhys Dolan, as the home side well and truly looked to throw the ‘kitchen sink’ at the Canaries with seven minutes plus added time left.
Teemu Pukki – who announced he would be leaving Norwich City at the end of this campaign – looked to add to his underwhelming seasonal tally of just ten, but Hayden Carter did brilliantly to pull out a last ditch tackle to prevent a third Norwich goal.
Rovers continued to push in the 86th minute, as Harry Pickering’s cross across the face of goal fell to Sorba Thomas, but he saw his close-range attempt denied by Gunn, who seemed determined to keep a first clean-sheet since a 0-0 draw at Stoke City in mid-March.
The goalkeeper was called into action moments later as Ben Brereton Díaz latched onto the end of Sam Gallagher’s cross into the box, but Gunn again showed why he was breaking into the Scottish national team setup, with two clean-sheets in as many games over the recent international break, with a fine diving save.
Dolan and Díaz combined as the clock hit 90 minutes, but Rovers and their supporters – who were beginning to stream out of Ewood Park – knew it wouldn’t be their day as the Chilean’s effort from Dolan’s layoff was fired over the bar.
The remaining home support were offered a glimmer of hope as five added minutes were held aloft by the fourth official, but that only proved enough time for one last gasp Rovers chance, in a bid to save their goal-difference, rather than earn any points.
In the 93rd minute, another Sorba Thomas corner led to a goaline clearance before a Brereton Díaz cross was met by Hyam who saw his nod saved, in the game’s final act of action, as the full-time whistle swiftly followed.
An afternoon that offered much promise and a chance for redemption after successive defeats in all competitions, saw Rovers fail to turn up ahead of their biggest home crowd of the campaign. The Blues lacked any real intensity to their play and they were sloppy from minute one to 95. There was also an unnatural lack of cohesion between the defenders, which ultimately set the tone for a poor afternoon overall, for Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side.
Although the game, on paper, looked close, Rovers – until going 2-0 down – never looked like they would beat Angus Gunn. This sees Rovers continue to be plagued by a lack of attacking edge, in addition to being unable to improve upon their unwanted statistic of being unable to salvage points from winning positions, with just one point – in the 1-1 draw versus West Bromwich Albion – being the only one earned this season.
After Norwich’s victory and other results, the race for the playoffs has been blown wide open, after Rovers had built up a comfortable cushion, which has now been eradicated. Despite remaining in 6th place with a game in hand, the Canaries – in 7th – now only sit one point behind the Blues.
There’s a quick turnaround for Rovers to right their recent wrongs, as they travel to resurrected Huddersfield Town on Easter Monday for the 12:30pm kick-off, which will be aired on Sky Sports. After that tie, the Blues are back at Ewood Park to host Hull City on Saturday 15th April, in another Sky Sports-controlled game, with kick-off for that tie being an unusual 7:45pm, despite it being on the weekend. Following those ties, midweek football and Sky Sports return to Ewood Park, as the Blues host Coventry City on Wednesday 19th April also at 7:45pm.