Rovers’ four match unbeaten away run came crashing to a halt as bottom club, Sheffield Wednesday managed to muster the ability to claim all three points at a freezing cold Hillsborough.
With Rovers coming into this fixture on a high after beating Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham City in midweek by a 4-2 scoreline, Jon Dahl Tomasson shuffled his pack following suspensions and an ever-growing injury list, which led to the average age of the substitutes bench being 20.1. Despite Scott Wharton’s return at the heart of defence, skipper Lewis Travis missed the game in Yorkshire due to an accumulation of yellow cards. After his goal-grabbing performance off the bench, Harry Leonard was given a start as he replaced the sidelined Tyrhys Dolan, whilst Arnór Sigurðsson – who came off the bench on Wednesday – was ruled out with a groin injury.
As the Rovers fans battled the conditions to squeeze into Hillsborough’s away end, it was the their heroes in yellow who got the ball rolling as Harry Leonard took the kick-off. Jon Dahl Tomasson’s men were hoping to back up their midweek success with a triumph on the road to try and get themselves into the playoff spots for the first time since the opening day of the campaign.
Dominic Iorfa very quickly became the game’s first casualty as after just three minutes of play, he was deemed unable to continue after picking up an injury, meaning that Carlton Palmer had to quickly warm up and get on the pitch to replace him.
That shift in the backline proved to be no problem for the hosts as they – rather surprisingly – managed to take the lead in the game through Bailey Cadamarteri. Josh Windass picked the ball up inside the left-hand channel and looked to beat Hayden Carter to put a cross in. The low delivery was aimed towards the top of the six-yard-box as Rovers’ defence were frozen inside the first five minutes, as Cadamarteri moved quickest to poke the ball above Leopold Wahlstedt as the bottom side took an early lead.
Three minutes after the restart, Rovers broke forwards as Callum Brittain and Andrew Moran combined, but the full-back-turned-left-winger, couldn’t get his effort on target.
In the 16th minute, Josh Windass was causing Rovers problems again, just like he did when he scored the only goal in Rovers’ last visit to Hillsborough in 2021, however Wahlstedt did manage to deny the playoff final goalscorer’s long-range shot.
Rovers were reduced to half-chances as Carter released Leonard with a long pass, however Wednesday goalie, Cameron Dawson did well to anticipate the pass and quell any attacking intent that Leonard had mustered.
Di’Shon Bernard soon talked his way into referee David Webb’s book after Harry Leonard was scythed down by Will Vaulks.
In the 28th minute, chances came at a canter as Sondre Tronstad first tried his luck from range, but he couldn’t set himself for an on-target strike. As Wednesday got the ball up the field from the goal-kick, Wahlstedt sprung into action to stop George Byers from doubling the hosts’ lead.
Rovers continued to knock on the door as in the 31st minute a good chance went begging. After Moran nodded the ball into the path of Sammie Szmodics, he was about to pull the trigger before a Blue and White defender nicked the ball away from him as it looked for all the world like Rovers were about to equalise.
Eight minutes later, Harry Pickering threatened with a dangerous low cross into the box that had the home defence scrambling to put behind. The resulting corner from Moran was deflected into Carter whose effort saw Wednesday forced to concede another corner.
Soon enough, Rovers were starting to control affairs in the late stages of the first period as in the 44th minute, Harry Leonard found Szmodics with a cross, but the Championship’s top scorer couldn’t extend his tally to 14 for the season as Dawson made a simple save.
As the 45th minute ticked over onto the clock, David Webb allocated a minimum of four added minutes onto the end of the first-half.
The half’s final act again saw Leonard and Szmodics combine, but once again Dawson was in inspited form to deny Szmodics the leveller, before the whistle was blown to conclude the first 45 minutes.
Owls boss, Danny Röhl, would have been delighted with how quickly his side had started the game and even happier with how they’d managed to pull Rovers apart for the opener. The German ex-Bayern Munich assistant would have spent the break encouraging his side to continue what they had shown, reminding them that Rovers were in good form and that a victory could go a long way to boost their own survival hopes.
Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been forgiven for being frustrated at his side’s lack of fluidity. Whilst they had improved as the half wore on, they ultimately left themselves in the lurch in the early stages and were lucky that the deficit was only by one goal. The Dane would have been wanting more from his side and given his incredibly young bench, wanted those on the pitch to try and show why they had not lost in four away games.
As the teams returned for the second period, it was the Owls who got the game back underway as they returned in search of their second home league win of the campaign. Just before the kick-off, Wednesday did make a second change as Marvin Johnson replaced George Byers.
With 50 minutes gone, it was again Brittain and Moran combining as the defender’s effort won Rovers a corner.
In the 55th minute, Szmodics was sent down the left-hand side and managed to send a cross into the box that Akin Famewo cleared.
As the Rovers nerves began to build in the away end, Sammie Szmodics decided that was enough messing around and decided to grab his 14th league goal of the season, to not only equalise, but also extend his lead at the top of the scoring charts, given Adam Armstrong had also scored for Southampton – not that he knew! James Hill did fantastically to break down the right and get a cross in from the byline which saw Sammie peel away at the back post and produce a near horizontal diving header to sneak the ball inside Dawson’s near-post for 1-1!
The skipper for the day wasn’t satisfied with just drawing level as Szmodics tried to become provider as well as scorer, with a cross that fell to Moran, however the on-loan Brighton and Hove Albion man couldn’t make a clean connection to his effort at goal.
In the 77th minute, Wednesday made a double change as Michael Ihiekwe and Anthony Musaba replaced Akin Famewo and goalscorer Bailey Cadamarteri.
The changes seemingly proved to be exactly what the hosts needed as half-time change, Marvin Johnson got the Owls back ahead with 12 minutes of the game left. The ex-Middlesbrough winger picked the ball up from deep and drove into the box unchallenged before picking out a bottom corner to put his team back ahead at 2-1.
In reaction to going behind, Rovers made their first change in the 80th minute as Semir Telalović replaced Harry Leonard for the final ten minutes plus stoppages.
Referee David Webb soon decided that he hadn’t used his cards enough in this fixture, as he soon went on a booking spree, with the first casualty being Rovers Head Coach, Jon Dahl Tomasson who was sent off following his protestations after the Wednesday goal. Minutes later, James Hill was the next to see a card, but this time it was yellow.
In the 88th minute, Sheffield Wednesday freshened up their midfield as Jeff Hendrick replaced Barry Bannan.
As the 90th minute appeared on the clock, five minutes of time were added onto the end of the game by David Webb.
That extra time proved the perfect opportunity for a goal, which did come in the shape of a Josh Windass finish, as the hosts hit Rovers on the counter for the third and the game clincher at 3-1.
Will Vaulks was soon booked after spending the entire game persistently fouling Rovers.
After a deep Rovers free-kick saw Semir Telalović’s effort veer wide of the mark in the final moments, the final whistle was soon blown as the game wrapped up a forgettable away day for Rovers, who have now not won at Hillsborough since January 2020’s 5-0 bonanza, before the pandemic.
This game epitomised Rovers’ fortunes at the moment. With nearly a full first-team unavailable for the game, the team had shown great resilience, attitude and application in the victories against the Cities of Stoke and Birmingham, however the third game in a week proved to be a step too far for the very young and inexperienced Rovers team as fitness and fatigue eventually reared their heads. Another important point to note is that Jon Dahl Tomasson’s sending off now leaves Rovers without their Head Coach for at least their next game. Additionally, the boss is now unable to express his thoughts on today’s game as a result, meaning there will be no interviews from the Dane, in what is a ridiculous rule.
Despite such a disappointing day, Rovers do still look in a healthy position, as they remain in 7th place, despite their goal-difference dropping to +1 from what is now, 19 games played.
Rovers now have a week’s worth of rest to try and get some players back, before hosting Leeds United next Saturday (9th December) at 12:30pm. After that, comes the visit of Bristol City on Tuesday 12th December at 7:45pm, before a long away trip to Southampton on Saturday 16th December with kick-off scheduled for 3pm.