MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Swansea City 2 – 1 Blackburn Rovers

MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Swansea City 2 – 1 Blackburn Rovers

Rovers were unable to keep their good momentum going from midweek as a desolate performance in South Wales saw Swansea City do the double over Rovers for the first time ever.

After Tuesday’s battle with Newcastle United in the FA Cup, which saw Rovers valiantly take the Toon all the way before losing out on penalties, John Eustace made one change to the midweek contest as Harry Pickering returned to fitness to replace Ben Chrisene, who was available from the bench after playing the whole 120 minutes. Irish duo, Connor O’Riordan and Zak Gilsenan were also available in the matchday squad if required later on. There were two milestones to celebrate amongst the Rovers ranks as skipper Dom Hyam was going to play his 250th career game, whilst Sam Gallagher was set to hit 300 career games at the age of 28.

As the home crowd rallied their atmosphere, it was the Swans who got the ball rolling in the contest which was set to be a corker given both sides were looking over their shoulder, worrying about the prospect of potential relegation.

The game didn’t start in ideal fashion for Rovers as after just only seven minutes of time had passed, Luke Williams’ side managed to get themselves ahead for the second game running as veteran and former Wales international, Joe Allen broke the deadlock early on. After Przemysław Płacheta sped down the left wing, faced with just Andrew Moran, the Pole got the better of the on-loan midfielder with consummate ease, barging him out of the way before his cross was spilled by Aynsley Pears’ poor punch, straight into the path of Allen whose first-time finish sent the home crowd wild as they opened the scoring at 1-0.

After just 15 minutes, the first booking of the game came Kyle McFadzean’s way as he hauled down Swansea’s match-winner last Saturday at the Stadium of Light, Ronald Pereira Martins.

Three minutes later, Rovers were looking to peg the hosts back early on as Sam Gallagher stormed forwards looking to create a shooting opportunity, but opted to look for an assist as he fed Callum Brittain, yet the Rovers right-back’s effort curled wide of the far-post.

Within a minute of the restart of play, Rovers’ afternoon in South Wales went from bad to worse as Jamie Paterson doubled the hosts’ lead after just 19 minutes. A short free-kick by Scott Wharton was played into Andrew Moran who was pickpocketed inside his own half by ex-Rover and Swans skipper, Matt Grimes whose tackle inadvertently ended up being a through-ball for Paterson who skipped past McFadzean and put the ball past Pears, straight down the middle of the net, for 2-0.

As time passed, the next booking of the game came in the 34th minute as Tyrhys Dolan saw yellow for pulling down Josh Tymon.

Despite being cautioned, the lively winger was in action on an attacking front three minutes later, as he became the next Rover to try and set up Brittain for a strike at goal, however again, the right-back failed to net the ball as Carl Rushworth made a fine save.

After 42 minutes had passed, Rovers were arguably looking the mostly likely team to get the next goal as Sammie Szmodics crossed the ball into the box, finding Dolan, who saw Rushworth deny the black shirts and keep the home sides’ clean-sheet.

As the 45th minute appeared, referee Rebecca Welch called on her fourth official to add a minimum of two extra minutes onto the end of the first period.

In the final minute of the added time, Tyrhys Dolan was again causing problems inside the Swans’ box as he created half-a-yard of space to shoot at goal, but his attempt at goal was dragged wide of the mark, before the half-time whistle was soon sounded.

Luke Williams would have been absolutely buzzing at his side’s first-half display that saw them enter the dressing room with a two-goal lead. After winning last week away at Sunderland, the former Notts County manager would have wanted his side to continue their fine form in the second period as they looked to try and grab back-to-back victories and edge themselves away from the relegation zone.

John Eustace would have been forgiven for bashing his head against the dressing room wall at the break after his side’s mind-boggling performance, especially after their battling, hard-fought display in midweek, which saw them spend a lot of the evening on the front-foot against top-class opposition. The boss would have undoubtedly fired a rocket at his side at the break and wanted them to go out battling in the second-half to try and turn the performance around for the 400-odd fans who had made the long journey down to Swansea.

Just before Rovers got the second-half underway, John Eustace made a double change prior to the restart as Yasin Ayari and Arnór Sigurðsson were introduced for Kyle McFadzean and Andrew Moran, as the away side switched to a back-four.

With four minutes gone in the second period, Płacheta was out causing problems again as he cut inside from the right and tried an audacious ‘trivela’ outside of the foot effort, but Pears was on-hand to make the save.

Callum Brittain and Sam Gallagher were at it again in the 52nd minute, as the former ended up providing the latter, in an opposite move to the first-half, but the striker’s shot was blocked by Ben Cabango as the ball looped harmlessly into the awaiting gloves of Rushworth.

As time passed with neither side really threatening the others’ goal, Rovers made a double change as Ben Chrisene and Dilan Markanday replaced Harry Pickering and Tyrhys Dolan in the 66th minute, but not before Swansea replaced Przemysław Płacheta and Joe Allen with Jerry Yates and Jay Fulton, moments before.

Those changes arguably brought Rovers the impetus they required as within 60 seconds of the changes, Rovers managed to half their deficit to 2-1, as a John Buckley free-kick was curled into the box, as Sammie Szmodics met it first-time with the side of his boot on the penalty spot as it curled away from the outstretched arm of Rushworth, as Rovers finally scored their first goal against Swansea City, this season. Although the goal gave Rovers the required impetus and just over 20 minutes to try and find a second, with it being scored in the 67th minute, it also meant that Sammie Szmodics hit 25 goals for the season in all competitions, becoming the first player to hit a quarter of a century of goals for Rovers in all competitions in a single season since Adam Armstrong’s 29 strikes in all competitions throughout 2020-21.

With 72 minutes gone; Josh Tymon was booked for bringing down Sam Gallagher as the Swansea were awarded their first booking of the game. Moments later, Swansea were forced into a change as the injured Jamie Paterson saw Jamal Lowe take his place.

Play restarted with a Rovers corner, as Buckley was on the end of a one-two from a short corner before he beat his man and tried to curl the ball in from an angle, but his effort was deflected behind.

Dilan Markanday was the next Rovers to try his luck at goal, as his 74th minute from outside the box was easily saved by Rushworth, as Rovers continued to knock the door with the home side refusing to let the Lancashire side in.

Five minutes later, Jerry Yates found himself one-on-one with Pears after being threaded through by his teammates, but the former Middlesbrough ‘keeper stood strong to keep Rovers in the game heading into the final ten minutes.

Swansea’s final two changes soon came in the 83rd minute as Charlie Patino and Oli Cooper were introduced for the final seven minutes plus added time, with Liam Cullen and Ronald Pereira Martins departed.

As both sides continued to recycle the ball without much luck for their team in-front of goal, the clock continued to tick down until the 90th minute before Rebecca Welch called for a mammoth nine minutes of time with which to extend the game.

In the fifth of those nine minutes, Rovers again looked to freshen their sides with their final change as Zak Gilsenan was given four minutes to try and salvage something for Rovers and keep his good form from the under-21s alive, as he replaced John Buckley.

Moments after the change, Rovers were on the charge as Yasin Ayari’s cross was aimed towards Ben Chrisene as the two substitutes combined, but Rushworth again stood tall to deny the two loanees the equaliser that Rovers were craving.

As the 98th minute appeared on the clock, another Rovers attack was cleared by the home side as the ball fell to Sammie Szmodics on the edge of the area before the league top scorer’s effort deflected behind for a corner that the hosts soon dealt with as the final whistle soon followed, condemning Rovers to their first defeat in three league games.

This was a game that was lost in the first-half and one from which Rovers failed to recover after taking two arrows to their knees – there’s a Skyrim reference I never thought I’d use in this context! Rovers never really looked like they would reach the intense heights of Tuesday night, however, maybe there’s an argument to suggest that we should have expected such a tired, lacklustre performance after going 120+ minutes against such a quality outfit and then only making one change. Whilst Sammie Szmodics once again showed his quality with his 25th goal in all competitions, there were some poor individual displays, none more so than Andrew Moran, who would have undoubtedly understood his role in both Swansea goals when he was hooked at half-time. Whilst Rovers did show some fight in the second-half, the story of the game arguably reflected that of the season as they once again acted too late to try and get back into the game after going behind.

After that result, Swansea now leapfrog Rovers, with Eustace’s men now sitting in 17th place with 39 points from 34 games played and a negative goal-difference of 13, which did not help after a lot of their relegation rivals won, which closed the gap between Rovers and the last relegation place to just one point.

Rovers don’t have long until they’re back in action as they are set to host Millwall on Tuesday 5th March at 7:45pm, before Plymouth Argyle are the second guests at Ewood Park in a week as they are the Saturday 3pm game on the 9th. The Blues’ final game before the final international break of the season will see them make a trip up north to face Middlesbrough on Saturday 16th March at 3pm.