Blackburn Rovers were left utterly bewildered and confused as to how they only managed to score one goal on Wednesday night, at Ewood Park, as Tony Mowbray returned to Ewood Park to grab all three points with Sunderland, as they scampered away with a 3-1 victory as the Black Cats notched a third victory on the bounce.
With Rovers on a high following their 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough on Saturday, they came into their first midweek home clash of the campaign against another North-East side aiming for back-to-back trebles. With Sam Gallagher ruled out for an extended period of time, Jon Dahl Tomasson was forced into a change which saw Harry Leonard come in to lead the line. Another change was in the offing by the Dane, as Andrew Moran came in for his first Ewood start, as he replaced Tyrhys Dolan who was available from the bench.
Just before Sammie Szmodics got the ball rolling, two former Blues skippers – both who captained Tony Mowbray’s Rovers – were both invited onto the pitch to bask in the applause of the home crowd, in Elliott Bennett and Charlie Mulgrew, who were also belatedly celebrating Rovers’ 5,000 match milestone.
As the atmosphere built inside Ewood Park following kick-off, it was Rovers who burst out the blocks as they had multiple balls flash across the face of goal, before the first real chance of the game fell to Ryan Hedges in the fifth minute as his left-footed effort curled off-target, after he gained possession of the ball after Andrew Moran was tackled.
Four minutes later, Rovers were again on the prowl as a fantastic move forwards saw Hedges latch onto a lofted ball in-behind the Sunderland backline. The Welshman did superbly to dig out a first-time cross on his weaker right-foot which fell awkwardly for Harry Leonard whose volley whistled past the far-post.
The 10th minute saw everyone in Blue and White hold their head in their hands as the home side passed up a triple chance courtesy of some valiant defending by the away team. The first of the three came from Szmodics who saw his swivel and shot denied by Anthony Patterson in the Black Cats’ goal. The goalie wasn’t able to hold onto the ball, as it fell to Leonard who saw his own attempt cleared off the line, prior to the third and final attempt by Moran being blocked by Dan Ballard in fantastic fashion.
Rovers were wondering if it was going to be their night just 12 minutes into the game, as Lewis Travis’ cross fell to Leonard whose effort was blocked into the path of Szmodics, but the Blues’ top scorer couldn’t add to his tally as his shot was nodded behind by well-placed defenders. The resulting corner saw it worked to Hayden Carter who saw his own effort denied by Patterson.
All of that Rovers pressure proved worthless in the 27th minute, as what proved to virtually be Sunderland’s first foray forwards into the Rovers penalty area, saw them take the lead through ex-Tottenham Hotspur winger, Jack Clarke, who won and converted a penalty after being clipped by Hedges as the pair challenged an aerial duel, with the Welshman kicking the raised leg of Clarke as he looked to clear the ball. After referee John Busby pointed to the spot, Clarke confidently stepped up and coolly slotted the ball down the middle for 1-0, as Aynsley Pears dived to his right.
Just after the half-hour mark, Clarke was again involved, as Sunderland looked to hit Rovers on the break, but Lewis Travis took one for the team and was cautioned for persistent fouling.
Despite going behind, Rovers weren’t behind for long, as they restored parity seven minutes after the deadlock was broken, as Harry Leonard notched his second league goal of the season with a fantastic looping header. Another Rovers attack was thwarted by the ‘highlighter yellow’ Sunderland shirts with the ball falling to Callum Brittain who sent in a deep cross towards the back-stick where Leonard was battling with his marker. The youngster not only got the better of the defender, but also Patterson in goal as he drifted away from his man and nodded the ball into the bottom right-hand corner for 1-1 as Rovers’ supporters began to believe again.
The home faithful were soon up on their feet jeering at their former boss, in the 36th minute, who was booked by the referee following some protestations and disagreements regarding the equaliser.
Abdoullah Ba was looking to restore the visitor’s lead in the 40th minute as he looked to curl one in from the right, but his accuracy lacked the required dosage to test Pears.
From the restart, Rovers again played the ball behind the high Sunderland line as Szmodics broke free once more, but his eventual effort from close-range was sliced into the travelling Sunderland fans.
Ba was once again being a menace down the right as he again fashioned a chance to put his side ahead before the break, but despite being flagged for offside, he forced Pears into a fantastic stretching save to keep the ball out of the net.
After five minutes of time were added onto the end of the first period, Sunderland only needed to use on to re-take the lead, as academy graduate Dan Neil managed to net his second of the league campaign following a lapse in Rovers’ concentration following a corner. After Rovers only half-cleared the Black Cats’ set-piece, the ball ricocheted into the path of Neil who collected the loose ball and sized up an effort following a dummy. His low left-footed effort left Pears unsighted as the goalscorer’s effort swept past the defence and the goalkeeper, meeting the bottom right-hand corner, for 2-1.
The half’s last act saw Adam Wharton booked, prior to the referee’s whistle that brought an end to the whirlwind half.
Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been completely forgiven if he had spent the entirety of the half-time break either pulling his hair out, or giving his players a crash course on finishing their dinner. The Dane’s reaction at the break would have been one of disbelief as to how his side had only managed to craft one goal from the plethora of openings they had crafted without their just rewards.
The booked Tony Mowbray would have been delighted with his young team’s character after being pegged back and would have wanted more of the same from his players. The former boss, who lost on his previous visit to Ewood Park following his departure would have called upon his players to be wary of both, the crowd’s reactions after the break, but also the increased intensity that Rovers would have invariably shown.
Sunderland got the second-half underway as they looked to try and keep their composure and grab a third victory successive victory, that would elevate them into the playoff picture early on in the campaign.
Despite Sunderland starting the half with the possession, it was Rovers who had the half’s first chance as Travis looked to beat Patterson from range, but forced the shot-stopper to do exactly that.
Harry Leonard was booked in the 50th minute for a strong challenge on halfway after he lost the ball.
Just before the hour mark, Rovers made a triple change, partly enforced by the bookings to Lewis Travis and Harry Leonard, but also with Saturday’s game at Ipswich Town in mind, as Ryan Hedges also departed. The trio were replaced by Joe Rankin-Costello, Dilan Markanday and Tyrhys Dolan.
With the changes made, Rovers remained in the ascendency as Andrew Moran tried his luck from the edge of the area on the hour mark, but gravity failed to help the Irishman as his shot met the Blackburn End crowd.
The 66th minute saw Harry Pickering nearly claim an assist as his in-swinging corner was met by Dom Hyam, but the stand-in skipper nodded his effort into the ground as it bounced over the bar.
From the stoppage, Sunderland made their first change of the evening as Patrick Roberts replaced Chelsea loanee, Mason Burstow.
With 20 minutes to go, Rovers ramped up the pressure as the ball was worked to Dilan Markanday who found half a yard of space to shift into as his curling left-footed effort bounced behind via the far-post, with Rovers left wondering whether the stars were going to align on a cold, dark night in East Lancashire.
Alex Pritchard became the first Mackem to be booked as he brought down Moran in the 71st minute.
Jon Dahl Tomasson soon dipped into his bench in the 72nd minute as Jake Garrett replaced the booked Adam Wharton, but five minutes later, Garrett soon picked up a booking of his own after a clattering challenge on halfway.
The game was soon killed moments later. After Sunderland’s set-piece resulted in a Rovers goal-kick, the home side looked to build out from the back as usual, but a misplaced pass by Carter saw the Black Cats pounce again, as Roberts won the ball back and fed Pritchard. The ex-Spurs man combined with another former White, as Clarke collected the ball on the overlap, before breaking into the area. The tricky winger’s fine feet sent Carter sliding into the Sunderland fans, before he hurdled the incoming legs of Moran and Hyam, whilst Pears remained rooted to the spot, as the attacker coolly rolled the ball into the bottom corner for 3-1.
Harry Pickering tried to reduce the arrears in the 81st minute with a long-range strike, but it proved catching practice for Patterson.
Rovers’ final change came in the 83rd minute as Semir Telalović took the place of Andrew Moran.
The attacker almost made an instant impact in his second Ewood appearance, as he managed to make some space for a shot from range, but it deflected behind for a corner that the visitors cleared.
Abdoullah Ba soon became the second away player to be booked, as he was cautioned for time-wasting.
A wayward Rovers cross was kept in by the corner flag, which gave Dolan the opportunity to carry the ball into the box, but despite the winger being crowded out, the ball fell to Garrett whose effort was blocked.
Despite six minutes of time being added onto the end of the affair, Rovers never looked like scoring even if they played for another six hours. The game was soon called to an end after Joe Rankin-Costello and Dan Ballard were both booked for separate incidents as Mr. Busby brought an end to a miserable evening for the hosts.
Despite having watched the game from the stands, it’s hard to be in any state except disbelief following that performance. Whilst a defeat is never pleasing, Rovers looked nailed on to dominate the game and come away with a second successive victory given the number of opportunities they created. Despite outdoing the Black Cats in all the main attacking stats, Rovers faltered in the the only stats that mattered – the scoreline. Whilst the match has left us with a bitter taste in our mouths, it’s important to highlight the positive work that Jon Dahl Tomasson has done with this team over the past 12 or so months, with his identity of playing clear to see. Rovers’ fans can take a lot of confidence from the fact that we are one clinical finisher away from potential constant positivity.
Despite that disheartening defeat, we’re still in an early stage of the league campaign, so the league table isn‘t that much of a worry or a definite definition of where a team will end up. Rovers now sit 12th place with 10 points and a negative goal-difference of -3 from the 7 games they’ve played.
The Blues will be looking to get back to winning ways sooner, rather than later, with a quick turnaround on the cards as they travel to surprise high-flyers, Ipswich Town on Saturday 23rd September at 3pm. Sandwiched between the two league fixtures, is Rovers’ EFL Cup Third Round tie against Cardiff City, at Ewood Park, which is scheduled for Wednesday 27th September at 7:45pm. It’s a top of the table double for the Blues in the league, as after the Suffolk side in 3rd place, they host 2nd placed Leicester City on Sunday 1st October at midday – a game available on Sky Sports.