‘Controversy’ was the order of the evening at Ewood Park, as Blackburn Rovers were forced to settle for a point against fellow playoff hopefuls, Coventry City, after Sky Blues shot-stopper, Ben Wilson’s heroic, but dubious 95th minute equaliser saw Mark Robins’ side fight back from a goal down to earn precious point.
With the playoff race getting tighter as the games tick down, Rovers are looking to return to winning ways after their goalless draw with Hull City, on Saturday. Jon Dahl Tomasson made three changes from the weekend, with one enforced, as Harry Pickering dropped out due to injury. Callum Brittain came in at left-back to replace the March Goal of the Month winner, whilst Adam Wharton and Ryan Hedges came into the team to replace Tyler Morton and Tyrhys Dolan, who were on the bench. Alongside them in the dugout, was Bradley Dack, who returned to the matchday squad after a spell out injured.
As the atmosphere inside Ewood Park was turned up to the maximum for this 7th vs 9th clash, Sammie Szmodics got the ball rolling in kicked-off one of the biggest games of the season, after referee Jeremy Simpson’s starting whistle.
Rovers started brightly as after just nine minutes, Ryan Hedges put a cross into an area for Sam Gallagher to attack, but the forward’s attempt went straight down the throat of Coventry goalie, Ben Wilson.
The home side dominated the ball for most of the first period, with all of their positive play coming through young starlet, Adam Wharton, who was the lynchpin for everything good that Rovers did as he was composure personified, despite only being 18-years-old.
In the 36th minute, the ball was again played through Hedges, who found Joe Rankin-Costello on the overlap, as the attacking full-back broke into the area, but his attempt from an angle was blocked by the visiting bodies.
Jon Dahl Tomasson’s men only had to wait three minutes after Rankin-Costello was denied, to celebrate the game’s first goal, as Sam Gallagher nodded home his eighth of the campaign via a brilliantly improvised stooping header. Joe Rankin-Costello picked up the ball inside the right-hand channel and delivered an inviting floated cross into the box as Gallagher did brilliantly to break free of the defensive pack and somehow guide the cross past Ben Wilson, at the front-post and into the bottom right-hand corner, for 1-0.
Gallagher and Rankin-Costello soon combined again, but with roles reversed, as the goalscorer looked to set up the assister, but the midfielder-turned-defender couldn’t replicate Gallagher’s finish, as he was crowded out before he could get a shot off.
After four minutes of added time was allocated onto the end of the first-half, which came due to Ben Sheaf receiving treatment for a cut on his head, the former Arsenal man was soon replaced in added time as Manchester City loanee, Josh Wilson-Esbrand came off the bench to replace him.
As the clock ran over into five minutes of injury time, the half’s final act saw Lewis Travis booked for fouling the substitute Wilson-Esbrand, before the intermission was signalled via Jeremy Simpson’s whistle.
At the break, praise would have been the main body of Jon Dahl Tomasson’s team-talk. Rovers had bossed the entirety of the first-half, holding more possession, taking the lead and nullifying any Coventry City attack throughout the opening 45 minutes. The Dane, albeit happy, would have been quick to remind his players that their performance levels and concentration were to remain high.
The Coventry City dressing room would not have been a nice place in the interval, as Mark Robins would not have been pleased with how his side had stumbled out the blocks. Having come into the game with one loss to their name in their last 13, the ex-Manchester United attacker would have wanted and expected more urgency from his side, who had lacked any real attacking threat, despite having 20-goal striker, Viktor Gyökeres in their ranks.
Once both teams returned to the field, it was Coventry City who got proceedings back underway, as they looked to leapfrog Rovers and break into the playoffs. Moments prior to the restart, Mark Robins made an alteration, as Liam Kelly came on to skipper the side, replacing Jake Bidwell, as he made his first appearance since February after a spell injured.
It was the visitors who started the second-half the brighter of the two sides, as Gustavo Hamer zipped forwards and let one fly in the 48th minute, but his shot continued to rise, evading Aynsley Pears’ goal.
The Brazilian-born Dutch youth international was back at it again, two minutes later, as he received the ball from wide and tried to find the same corner that Gallagher had nearly burst in the first-half, but Pears was able to quickly react and make the save.
In the 53rd minute, Rovers saw two chances blocked within seconds of each other, as both Sam Gallagher and Ryan Hedges were denied, before Coventry cleared the ball from a Rovers corner.
Coventry soon ramped up the pressure after the hour, as they went in search of an equaliser, with Rovers players tiring. In the 72nd minute, Tyler Walker was introduced for Josh Eccles, as Mark Robins introduced an attacking figure to try and change his side’s fortunes.
Jon Dahl Tomasson was forced into a change moments after Robins played his hand, as Sam Gallagher was withdrawn after receiving treatment, with Tyrhys Dolan replacing him. Concurrently, Scott Wharton came on for Callum Brittain as Rovers reverted to a back-five, with Ryan Hedges moving into left-wing-back.
In the 80th minute, Coventry’s pressure had ramped up to maximum, which forced Rovers back, as Joe Rankin-Costello was booked after foudling Wilson-Esbrand.
Minute 82 saw subs four and five come on for the visitors as Fankaty Dabo and Jonathan Panzo replaced Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Kyle McFadzean. Rovers got jealous and made an enforced double swap of their own two minutes later, with Sorba Thomas and Tyler Morton coming on for Joe Rankin-Costello, who departed with the physios, and Man of the Match candidate, Adam Wharton, who was shattered after a phenomenal display. Thomas’ introduction saw him slot in at right-wing-back to try and support the back three, but also try and aid Rovers with an attacking outlet where possible.
As the clock began to wind down, Coventry ramped up their pressure, as Aynsley Pears clamoured to push Hamer’s near-post-bound free-kick behind.
The clock hit 90 as Jeremy Simpson produced the third booking of a lively game, with Callum Doyle the culprit following an off-ball incident.
In the first of five added minutes, Ryan Hedges became the next person to have his name taken by the referee, as the Welshman booted the ball away after Rovers conceded a free-kick.
That free-kick led to some scrambling around the Rovers box, as a succession of corners took up most of the remaining four minutes of added time, before Rovers were dealt a hammer blow, as Coventry were handed a playoff lifeline by an unlikely source.
As 95:00 loomed on the match clock, Gustavo Hamer stood over a Coventry corner on the left, as the 3,000-odd Sky Blue fans behind Pears’ goal prayed for their team to grab a late equaliser. Their prayers were answered by goalkeeper, Ben Wilson who remarkably managed to bundle home Hamer’s corner in controversial, but somewhat inconclusive fashion, as he seemingly punched the cross, waist-height, into the back of the Rovers net, for 1-1, which sparked scenes of frustration and appeal for those in Blue and White and some ‘Midlands madness’ for the visitors on the pitch, the dugout and in the away end.
With order restored, moments after Rovers restarted and got the ball up the other end of the pitch in the hope of adding another twist to the tale with another dramatic goal, time was called on a night that could potentially decide many fates around the top-half of the division.
The struggle continues for fans of Rovers, as the games tick down and the winless run extends to five, post-international break. Whilst Rovers played a fine game for an hour-70 minutes of this tie, again, they have been undone by failing to capitalise on their advantage. Despite taking the lead and being forced to make changes, they were unable to withstand the late, later pressure from a resolute and strong Coventry City side, who arguably deserved an equaliser, based on their second-half display. It is a wonder how long Rovers can go with switching to a five-back system and then falling at the final hurdle; an issue that has become apparent in the second-half of this campaign.
Thankfully, a point is better than none, and the late goal didn’t deal a knockout blow to Rovers’ playoff aspirations, courtesy of sides around them also failing to win. With the likes of Preston North End, Watford and Millwall losing, Rovers’ draw took them back up to 6th position, as they sit on 64 points despite their goal-difference remaining in the negatives at -2, the second lowest in the top-half, ahead of Preston North End.
PNE, ironically, are Rovers’ next opponents, with the Sky Sports selected derby set to be played at 5:30pm, at Deepdale on Saturday 22nd April, with both sides still hoping to sneak in at 5th or 6th place. After that short trip to West Lancashire, all aspects of East Lancashire combine inside Ewood Park for a pressure cooker of a fixture, as Burnley make the midweek trip into enemy territory on Tuesday 25th April for the 8pm kick-off. The fixture, which will also be beamed on Sky Sports, could potentially give already promoted Burnley the title, if results fall in their favour, much to the abhorrent dismay of Rovers supporters. Once such disgusting scenes are out the way, Luton Town become the final visitors to Ewood Park for 2022-23, as the May Day Bank Holiday hopes to serve up a 5:30pm classic, on the 1st of the month.