MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Blackburn Rovers 0 – 0 Coventry City

MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Blackburn Rovers 0 – 0 Coventry City

It was a ‘sea of red’ at Ewood Park in the final home game of Blackburn Rovers’ season, as despite facing ten men for most of the second-half, Rovers were unable to make all of their pressure count with the goal that would have mathematically secured Championship survival, as they drew 0-0 with FA Cup Semi-Finalists, Coventry City.

For the final time at Ewood Park, this season, Rovers named a side that only had one change to it, as Kyle McFadzean returned to the centre of a back three – to adulation and a standing ovation from the away support after the game – against his former club, taking the place of Scott Wharton, who limped off in the 3-1 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, last week, with confirmation the defender will face up to 12 months on the sidelines, injured.

As both sides came into the game with some trepidation, with Rovers looking over their shoulder and Coventry with an outside chance at the playoffs, it was the visitors who got the game underway.

The first attempt of the game came after just seven minutes as Joe Rankin-Costello tried his luck, but his low effort was easy pickings for Brad Collins.

Five minutes later, Kyle McFadzean latched onto a long throw as he flicked the ball into the danger area before it eventually landed at the feet of Tyrhys Dolan. The subsequent effort was well stopped by Collins who could only find Sammie Szmodics with his parry, however much to the disbelief of the home crowd, the newly crowned Player of the Season, couldn’t net his 32nd of the season as he fired over from yards out.

Rovers continued their early dominance as in the 18th minute, Sam Gallagher and Szmodics combined with the former feeding the latter, but Collins again stood firm to deny the league’s top marksman.

Coventry’s first foray towards the Rovers goal saw Callum O’Hare pick out Haji Wright with a cross-field ball as the American looked to try and grab his second goal of the week, after netting a 95th minute penalty at Wembley in the Sky Blues’ controversial penalty defeat to Manchester United, but Aynsley Pears atoned for his mistake, a week ago, with a fine save to keep the game goalless.

The chances continued coming as Kyle McFadzean found himself in unfamiliar territory after 22 minutes before striking from range, however his effort was blocked by visiting bodies before being cleared.

Rovers’ wave of attacks continued in the 25th minute as the home side tried out some ‘coast-to-coast’ attacking as Harry Pickering picked out Callum Brittain, but the right wing-back’s header dropped wide of the mark.

Despite a period of lull in the game, where both sides continued to battle for possession, but not really threatened either goal, the 43rd minute saw Rovers again try and take the lead before the break as Dolan and Szmodics combined before the Ireland international saw his effort saved at the near-post.

Although one minute of time was added onto the end of the first period, referee Anthony Backhouse soon brought a rather tepid first-half to a close, with Rovers looking like the better team.

During the break, John Eustace would gave been pleased with how his side had navigated a nervy first period, and would have encouraged them to increase their tempo and pressure on a tired Coventry side who saw their chances of making the top six slip with every passing minute, due to results elsewhere.

Conversely, Mark Robins would have wanted his team to concentrate on the task at hand and not focus on what was occurring around the grounds. He would have wanted his team to try and look for more opportunities to advance the play and get the 4,338 City supporters in the Darwen End excited, giving them something to shout about.

Once the teams returned for the second-half, it took only four minutes for Rovers to show their increased intensity – after Szmodics got the ball rolling from kick-off – as Harry Pickering looked to assist Sam Gallagher’s diving header, but the ball lacked the accuracy to divert it inside the far-post, as it fell the wrong side.

The game sparked into life moments later, in the 50th minute, when an altercation broke out between former Rover, Kasey Palmer and boss John Eustace in the Rovers dugout. After Rovers won a throw, Palmer aimed to slow play down by not handing the ball back to the home team, which saw Eustace hunt the ball down, giving the midfielder a sneaky push in the process which sparked a melee. After tempers calmed, Palmer was booked for his role, however Eustace was dismissed and sent to the stands, meaning not only could he not speak to the media at full-time, he would also not be on the touchline on the defining final day of Rovers’ season.

In the 59th minute, the chance opened up for Liam Kelly to strike at goal as his effort from inside the box crashed back off the near-post as Rovers woke up from two shocks in quick succession.

Sam Gallagher soon found himself free and away, peeling off the last defender, in the 62nd minute, but despite Rovers feeling the effects of their red card in the dugout, Coventry were soon to be hit by a more impactful one, on the pitch as Liam Kitching was given his marching orders following a last-man professional foul as the attacker closed down on goal, with Rovers earning a free-kick.

Both sides made changes after the red card as Rovers introduced former Coventry City loanee, Yasin Ayari for Joe Rankin-Costello, whilst Kasey Palmer was withdrawn and Joel Latibeaudiere slotted into the defence, as Coventry changed shape.

With 67 gone, Szmodics was again causing problems searching for goal number 32, however his effort from 20-yards just lacked the curl to sneak in a the far-post.

Seconds later, Dolan won the ball back high up after some good pressing before firing an effort off the post as Rovers began to wonder if things would fall their way.

The continuous waves of attack from those in Blue and White continued as Callum Brittain was next up to try and make himself a hero and put Rovers ahead but his left-footed attempt lacked any real conviction to cause Collins some trouble.

As Rovers continued to push, the home crowd were up in arms in the 71st minute, appealing for a penalty after Dolan was seemingly hauled to the ground inside the penalty area, however the referee waved play on.

Both sides again turned to their benches with 20 minutes to go as Rovers rotated Harry Pickering for Ben Chrisene, whilst Coventry threw on Matty Godden and Jamie Allen for Ellis Simms and Josh Eccles, as they looked to add fresh legs in their team to stave off Rovers’ attacks.

In the 79th minute, Yasin Ayari came agonisingly close to haunting the club he spent the first-half of the campaign on loan to, as he cut inside onto his right after some fine interplay down the left from Rovers allowed the Brighton and Hove Albion loanee some space, but his shot also lacked the required curl to nestle inside the far-post.

As time continue to tick down, Coventry again made a double change in the 86th minute, offering a first-team debut to Aidan Dausch who entered the field alongside the experienced Jake Bidwell, replacing Haji Wright and Callum O’Hare.

Yasin Ayari seemed determined to get one over on his former club as he again found space to try and propel Rovers to safety in the 88th minute, but his second effort was like his first, as it veered narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.

Following that stoppage, Rovers made a third change as Andrew Moran replaced Tyrhys Dolan in the closing stages.

After five minutes of time were added onto the end of the tie, the Blackburn End continued to roar their Rovers on as the pressure continued to pile onto the tired and depleted Coventry backline with a 92nd minute header from Moran forcing Collins to parry behind for another corner that the visitors cleared.

The game’s final act saw Sammie Szmodics aim to potentially call time on his Ewood Park career – if he is indeed to depart in the summer – with the winner late on, however his low effort was deflected and slowed down as it slowly spun to safety with Collins smothering the loose ball, much to Rovers’ overall frustrations as the final whistle was soon blown a few minutes later, after some more unsuccessful huffing and puffing from Rovers.

Although Rovers can look back at today as an opportunity missed, they still hold all the cards in terms of the relegation battle, after Birmingham City and Huddersfield Town drew against each other, meaning that the Terriers were all but condemned to relegation, leaving one spot left between four teams – Rovers, Birmingham, Plymouth and the incomprehensible Sheffield Wednesday who today, beat playoff hopefuls, West Bromwich Albion, 3-0 at Hillsborough.

The table sees Rovers with the highest chance of remaining in the division, as they sit 19th with 50 points, despite a negative goal-difference of -16. Sheffield Wednesday are below them, equal on points but have a -26 goal-difference, whilst Plymouth are 21st on 48 points and a -12 goal-difference. Occupying the spot nobody wants to be in – 22nd – are Tony Mowbray & Gary Rowett’s Birmingham City, on 47 points and -16 goal-difference. Huddersfield Town, mind, have 45 points and -27 for their goal-difference, with the maximum they can achieve being 48 points and that’s if they have a record-breaking game to swing goal-difference in their favour – (with Rotherham United already gone in 24th).

Whilst Rovers will be heading into Matchday 46 without their Head Coach on the sideline, they will take solace from the fact that their final day opponents, Leicester City, are already promoted and might have already won the title by 12:30pm on Saturday 4th May. Whilst nothing is guaranteed in football, or indeed life, Rovers know that one final push against a side still in celebration could bring relief to what has been a diabolical season, by all accounts.