MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Blackburn Rovers 1 – 1 (3-4p) Newcastle United

MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Blackburn Rovers 1 – 1 (3-4p) Newcastle United

Back-to-back FA Cup Quarter-Finals wasn’t to be for Blackburn Rovers, despite giving everything at Ewood Park in-front of a packed crowd taking Newcastle United all the way, John Eustace’s side paid the penalty after 120 minutes, as the BBC and legend in both camps, Alan Shearer, watched on.

As Rovers were heading into their sixth game in just under three weeks, John Eustace decided to keep a strong side available, despite having Saturday’s trip to Swansea City in the back of his mind. The gaffer made two changes from Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, as Ben Chrisene replaced the injured Ryan Hedges who was ruled out with a groin injury, whilst the seemingly ever-present Sondre Tronstad was unable to add to his goal in the last round in the 4-1 win over Wrexham AFC as an ankle injury left him out as Andrew Moran took the vacant midfield spot, as Rovers lined up in a 5-2-3 system. Soon-to-be 16-year-old, Rory Finneran was also on the bench for the second-time in Rovers’ FA Cup run, after making a brief cameo in the 5-2 victory over Cambridge United.

Despite the 7:45pm kick-off being pushed back to an 8pm kick-off to allow the 7,400+ Geordies to get into the Brian Douglas Darwen End, there was a mini-celebration on BBC1 as Alan Shearer was celebrated with the awarding of his own “Shearer Suite” in the Jack Walker Stand.

Once 8pm arrived, it was Newcastle who got the game rolling as they were hoping to deal with Rovers and get themselves into the FA Cup Quarter-Finals for the first-time since 2019-20, with the ambition brewing of winning their first major trophy since 1955.

Rovers started the quicker of the two sides as the stands breathed energy into the players after just five minutes as Tyrhys Dolan sent Sammie Szmodics through, before his shot was blocked by a visiting shirt before it spun behind back off Szmodics.

In the 14th minute, there was a slight delay after some tennis balls rained in from the Ronnie Clayton Blackburn End as some fans voiced their displeasure over the off-field state of the club.

The first booking of the game came after 18 minutes as Andrew Moran was cautioned for hauling down Jacob Murphy.

Rovers were again flying forwards in the 27th minute as John Buckley picked out Szmodics whose effort aimed towards the near-post skewed wide and hit the side-netting.

Just after half-an-hour, Andrew Moran used his agility to burst through the centre of the pitch before slipping in Dolan. The attacker then looked to pick out the far corner, but a fine save from Martin Dúbravka saw him tip the ball behind and narrowly away from the incoming, offside Szmodics.

The subsequent corner was pulled back for Szmodics on the edge of the box who nearly blew the roof off Ewood Park with his chest and volley, but it proved simple for Dúbravka to claim.

Sean Longstaff managed to finally get Newcastle on the board for shots moments after Dúbravka’s release, but a fine save from Aynsley Pears kept the score goalless.

Sammie Szmodics was proving to be Rovers’ brightest attacking spark as in the 44th minute Moran again found the prolific attacker who burst past Fabian Schär and fired towards goal, but the Slovak Dúbravka again denied Rovers.

Despite there being one minute of time added onto the end of the half, neither side were able to really muster a threatening chance as referee, Jarred Gillett called time on a first period that was mostly, all Rovers.

John Eustace would have been delighted with the manner of his side’s first period performance and would have been proud of his side’s dominance and their efforts. Whilst the sides were 27 places apart in the English footballing pyramid, Rovers were looking like the Premier League outfit with the number of chances they had created.

Toon boss, Eddie Howe, would have been forgiven for getting slightly frustrated from his lethargic side. Whilst the former Burnley and Bournemouth boss would have wanted his side to react after their 4-1 drubbing at Arsenal, he would have been quick to remind his team of the quality they possessed before going out for the second-half.

Just before Sammie Szmodics got the second-half underway, Rovers made their first change of the game as Arnór Sigurðsson replaced Sam Gallagher at the break.

In the 52nd minute, Callum Brittain picked out John Buckley, but the midfielder’s low drive from range was pushed away by Dúbravka.

After Newcastle won a corner on the hour mark following Murphy’s effort being blocked behind, Kieran Trippier’s cross found Jamal Lascelles whose header was blocked on the line by Kyle McFadzean before limbs broke out inside the six-yard box before Rovers cleared their lines, only as far as Murphy whose effort swung wide of the target.

In the 62nd minute, Eddie Howe made three changes as Miguel Almirón, Lewis Miley and Harvey Barnes replaced Jacob Murphy, Alexander Isak and Joe Willock.

Three minutes later, Rovers soon made a trio of swaps of their own as Yasin Ayari, Dilan Markanday and Jake Garrett were brought on for Andrew Moran, John Buckley and Tyrhys Dolan.

With 69 minutes gone, Anthony Gordon beat the Rovers offside trap and found himself one-on-one with Pears, but the Rovers goalkeeper stood strong and won the psychological battle as he denied Gordon the opener as the away team won a corner.

The set-piece was again lifted into the box by Trippier whose delivery was met by Sean Longstaff, but the nod flew over the crossbar.

With 71 minutes without a goal, a knock to Rovers’ confidence and good work came as Anthony Gordon rectified his earlier miss by passing the Geordies ahead after some fantastic work by Miguel Almirón, to grab the former Everton winger’s ninth goal of the season. A through-ball down the right-hand channel saw the Paraguayan latch onto the ball before entering the box and twisting Scott Wharton inside out before picking out the free Gordon on the penalty spot, with the winger having the simple job of stroking the ball, through the legs of Dom Hyam, into the back of the net for 1-0.

Rovers made their fifth change in the 73rd minute as Billy Koumetio replaced the soon-to-be 37-year-old, Kyle McFadzean.

Despite what looked like a blatant handball inside the away team’s half by Fabian Schär, the ball bounced favourably for Sammie Szmodics who burst through on goal but his off-balance shot flew over the crossbar.

The 79th minute brought the moment that the home fans wanted to see and to some extent had expected with how Sammie Szmodics has been this season. After Arnór Sigurðsson capitalised on a missed header by Jamal Lascelles following a Rovers throw, the Icelandic international burst down the left-hand channel before cutting it back for Dilan Markanday who saw his rocketed effort crash back off the crossbar before it fell into the path of the Championship and FA Cup top scorer who, despite being under pressure, tapped the ball home via a deflection off the Swiss Schär for 1-1.

As Rovers looked to be the team more likely to score the next goal during the final ten minutes, as they grew into the ascendency, Szmodics was again causing problems for the Toon defence in the 87th minute as he beat Lascelles for a loose ball, before Dúbravka denied the prolific attacker what would have been his seventh in the FA Cup.

As extra-time loomed, referee Jarred Gillett asked for a minimum of five added minutes onto the end of normal time.

The final act of the 90 minutes came in the third minute of added time as Szmodics nearly turned provider as he set up Yasin Ayari with a backheel as the Swede struck from distance in dramatic fashion, before Dúbravka came to the visitor’s rescue, as the full-time whistle soon materialised to send the tie towards 120 minutes.

Blues head coach John Eustace would have reiterated his delight with his players out on the pitch ahead of the extra 30 minutes. The boss would have expressed his proudness to his players and reminded them not to let all of their hard work during the initial 90 minutes go to waste in extra-time. He would have also reminded them of the potential glory that awaited them and inspired them towards grabbing a potential winner.

Eddie Howe would have wanted his team to up their pace in added time and show the quality that saw them beat Paris Saint-Germain, 4-1, in the Champions League, in the winter months. The Toon boss would have also wanted his team to go out and fight for the victory to send the near-7,500 travelling fans home happy as they eyed their first trophy in nearly 70 years.

Just before Rovers got extra-time underway, Eddie Howe made a fourth change as Tino Livramento took the place of Kieran Trippier.

In the 99th minute, Arnór Sigurðsson found the prowling Szmodics whose effort was blocked before the visitors cleared their lines.

With 101 minutes gone, Newcastle won another corner as Schär met the delivery, but it looped into the home end.

Moments later, Aynsley Pears was called into action to produce a double reflex save worthy of the Champions League, as the visitors caught the home defence momentarily asleep. A through-ball by Bruno Guimarães towards Tino Livramento saw Ben Chrisene intercept only for the ball to rebound perfectly for Gordon around ten-yards out, whose first-time effort was blocked by Pears before he flung himself across goal to deny Sean Longstaff with a world-class save that saw the entire Rovers support on their feet to give their goalie a standing ovation.

Jamal Lascelles became the first Newcastle player to see a booking as the away captain pulled on the shirt of Sigurðsson.

Moments later the skipper was causing havoc in the Rovers area as he forced another save from Pears after connecting with a Gordon corner but the visitors won another corner.

The subsequent set-piece saw a change of tac from the Toon as the deep corner was met by the head of 6’6” Dan Burn, but the nod dropped wide of the mark as half-time in extra-time soon arrived.

After a short break and an intake in fluids from either side, Anthony Gordon got play restarted for the second-half of extra-time.

With 107 minutes gone, Jake Garrett was able to craft his first chance of the game after coming off the bench, but his strike from range didn’t trouble the visitors.

Rovers soon saw another booking come their way after Ben Chrisene was cautioned for a late tackle on Miguel Almirón.

As Newcastle ramped up their pressure in the 112th minute, Gordon’s run was poked away to Almirón who picked out Bruno Guimarães on the penalty area before looking for all the world like he’d put Newcastle 2-1 up, but for the outstanding positioning of Scott Wharton who put a fantastic block in, as the ball fell to Harvey Barnes whose left-footed effort was sliced wide and behind into the travelling fans.

Moments later, Dilan Markanday got himself involved in the action as he found Szmodics but Dúbravka made a fine save to keep his side in the game.

With 114 minutes gone, Harvey Barnes grabbed half a yard of space to cut onto his right-foot but his strike zipped narrowly over the bar.

Newcastle’s final change was arguably made with penalties in mind as substitute Lewis Miley was himself substituted as Elliot Anderson made his first appearance since October.

In the 118th minute, Rovers were given a third booking as Yasin Ayari saw yellow for halting Harvey Barnes on halfway.

As the 120th minutes approached with penalties looming, only one minute was added onto the end of the elongated match as Sean Longstaff received the game’s final booking in the added time for bringing down Ben Chrisene.

With penalties now on the agenda, both sides huddled up in-front of their respective dugouts to try and formulate their penalty takers as their managers offered their final words of encouragement, before their fate was left in the lap of the Gods.

Newcastle won the toss, meaning they went first as Jamal Lascelles chose to take the penalty-kicks in-front of their mass support of around 7,500, to give the away team the psychological advantage before a ball had even been kicked.

With the formalities concluded, the penalties were set-up ahead of the Bryan Douglas Darwen End as set-piece specialist, Fabian Schär stepped up first for the Geordies as he had nerves of steel, coolly stroking his spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner and give the Toon the 1-0 shootout lead.

Sammie Szmodics was up first for Rovers as he looked to cap off his fantastic evening by drawing Rovers level in the shootout, however Martin Dúbravka had clearly done his homework as he got down quick to right-hand side to deny Rovers a shootout equaliser, with a penalty that was Szmodics’ only blotch of the evening.

Harvey Barnes – who was beaten by Rovers at this stage of the competition last season – was next up for the away side but Pears was on-hand to bring Rovers back into the game with a fine save down to his right-hand side to give Barnes more Rovers heartbreak.

Second for Rovers was Callum Brittain who volunteered to try and get Rovers back level, which he duly did with a penalty that arrowed into the bottom left-hand corner from where the taker was looking to level the scoring at 1-1.

Bruno Guimarães was next up for the visitors as the 7,500-odd fans’ incumbent hero stepped up for the third spot-kick which he put straight down the middle to give the visitors the lead back at 2-1.

Arnór Sigurðsson was the third Rover to get involved in the spot-kicks and he showed why he was playing Champions League football only a couple of years ago as he dispatched his penalty with enough power to get past Dúbravka’s outstretched arm, as it nestled into the bottom left-hand corner for 2-2.

Elliot Anderson, who was thrown on specifically for this outcome, was the fourth taker for the Toon and he did the job Eddie Howe asked of him as he replicated the penalty of Sigurðsson, with Pears narrowly failing to keep it out as the visitors re-took the lead at 3-2.

Next up for Rovers was Yasin Ayari. The Brighton and Hove Albion loanee didn’t look fazed by the occasion as he brought out a Jorginho-esque ‘hop penalty’ and curled the ball into the bottom left, which was proving to be a favoured corner, to level proceedings at 3-3.

The fifth Newcastle taker was the man who got the goalscoring underway; Anthony Gordon. The winger, who was trying to block out the boos of the home crowd and the songs of his own support for full concentration, but he showed no signs of nerves as he calmly put his penalty down the middle for 4-3, to heap all of the pressure onto Rovers’ final taker.

Skipper Dominic Hyam – who had equalised for Rovers in their 1-1 draw with Norwich City at the weekend – was the man who had Rovers’ hopes of progression on his shoulders and despite previously dispatching a fantastic penalty in Rovers’ last shootout – a 10-9 victory over West Ham United in the Carabao Cup in November 2022 – the Rovers captain was unable to keep his 100% Rovers penalty record as Dúbravka proved to be the hero on the night as he tipped the penalty – aimed towards the bottom left; no-one’s surprise – onto the post to secure progression for Newcastle United in what was a humdinger of a tie that Rovers were unlucky to lose, as the visitors were left breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Whilst Rovers have ultimately fallen short in the most dramatic and nerve-wracking fashion, the boys put in a performance that every fan can be proud of and received great praise from the footballing royalty in the BBC studio. John Eustace has continually banged the drum regarding wanting to bring Rovers as a community club, together and he has very much achieved that with this performance. Every player, to a man, deserves great praise for their output over 120+ minutes, despite the disappointment of the lottery that is a penalty shootout, the duo that missed – Szmodics and Hyam who are arguably Rovers’ most strongest assets – will no doubt be feeling the pain, but will be comforted with the praise that the fans have offered, both in the ground and on social media.

With this report being written over 24 hours after the game, Newcastle United were drawn in the Quarter-Finals away to Manchester City, which will probably bring a sly chuckle from everyone in Blue and White, arguably believing that the manner in which they went out, on Tuesday night, against a team that played Champions League football, is miles more respectable than a potential game against the reigning treble holders, which could have potentially been a demoraliser and a fitness sapper.

Although Rovers’ FA Cup adventure has ended one round earlier than it did last season, with them unable to recreate the heroics of Leicester City away, just under a year ago, they now have 12 games to focus on before the end of the season as they aim to steer away from relegation; a feat they should easily achieve if their performance levels continue in the same vein they did in this tie.

Speaking of the league, Rovers are back in action at the weekend as they make the long trip to South Wales to face Swansea City on Saturday 2nd March at 3pm. After that tie, they’re back at Ewood Park for back-to-back home games as they host Millwall on Tuesday 5th March at 7:45pm before welcoming Plymouth Argyle four days later on Saturday 9th March for the 3pm start.