MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Blackburn Rovers 1 – 3 Sheffield Wednesday

MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Blackburn Rovers 1 – 3 Sheffield Wednesday

A plethora of goalkeeping errors that will be replayed on highlight reels in years to come aided Sheffield Wednesday’s quest to achieve the Great Escape, as Blackburn Rovers were turned over at a sunny Ewood Park, with John Eustace’s men unable to ease the pressure off themselves in a six-pointer against fellow relegation rivals, who did the double over Rovers for the first-time since 2016-17.

With Rovers on an immeasurable high after putting a dent in Leeds United’s promotion hopes, following a 1-0 win at Elland Road, last week, John Eustace named an unnamed side hoping that his players could go out and once again show their quality and spirit against a side around them. Whilst the starting side didn’t change, there was a shuffle on the bench as Brighton and Hove Albion duo, Andrew Moran and Yasin Ayari both were available from the bench after returning from injuries, whilst Zak Gilsenan missed out with a thigh injury.

At a sun-kissed Ewood Park, with the Sky Sports cameras ready and waiting for the Sunday lunchtime game to get underway, it was Sammie Szmodics – fresh from his EFL Team of the Season nomination – who got the ball rolling looking to add to his rather manic 30 goals this season, by increasing his lead atop of the Championship top scorers list.

Although Rovers came into the game with the advantage in the table, it was Sheffield Wednesday who dealt the first blow after just six minutes, following some calamitous defending in the Rovers ranks, which allowed Josh Windass to hit a goal of the season candidate to give Wednesday the early lead and his third career goal against Rovers. After Aynsley Pears came a long way out of his goal to try and clear a loose through ball down the left-hand side, he could only header it out to Dom Hyam who was pickpocketed by a yellow and blue shirt. The ball fell kindly for Windass who hit a first-time side-footed half-volley from around 30-yards out which looped over the retreating Pears and skimmed the crossbar on its way in, for 1-0.

It only took three minutes for Rovers to hit back and draw level via their main talisman, who tied Erling Haaland for goals in all competitions throughout 2023-24, as Sammie Szmodics showed his class to dig Rovers out of a hole again. A first-time through ball by Callum Brittain sent Szmodics on his way as he picked the ball up from 30-yards out and burst towards goal before having the composure to guide his own side-footed effort past James Beadle, inside the left-hand post to bring the home side level at 1-1.

The first change of the game was enforced inside 15 minutes as Michael Ihiekwe was withdrawn and replaced by Bambo Diaby.

Despite the early action, the rest of the first-half petered out into a battle for possession as both teams showed why they were both sat at the wrong end of the table as referee Josh Smith added on a minimum of seven minutes onto the end of the first period once the clock hit 45 minutes.

In 45+3, Liam Palmer managed to earn a sniff at goal as he found himself on the edge of the Rovers penalty area with an opportunity to strike at goal, but his shot cleared the crossbar.

Three minutes later, Szmodics was again let loose as he tried to continue adding pressure onto the flailing Wednesday backline, but the fresher legs of Bambo Diaby showed their quality as he was able to hunt the top scorer down to deny a clear-cut chance by Szmodics.

That half-chance proved to be the first-half’s final chance as the officials soon called for half-time with Ewood Park – albeit still sunny – full of nerves from both sets of supporters.

During the break, John Eustace would have been calming his players down with encouraging words after what had been a frantic opening quarter of an hour that didn’t really lead into anything worth shouting about. The boss would have wanted his team to continue their dominance of possession to try and drag Wednesday out of their shell and potentially craft an opening for them to exploit.

Danny Röhl would have been forgiven in the dressing room for breaking out into some encouraging, passionate words for his strong-willed team who were backed to the nines with Yorkshire support. The former Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig coach would have wanted his team to tap into their resilience and show the world what they were capable of, live on TV as they continued the fight for their lives against fellow relegation-threatened Rovers.

Once the teams re-emerged from the tunnel, it was goalscorer, Josh Windass who got the game back underway as Wednesday were looking for the key advantage that would see them escape the bottom three for the first-time since the opening day of the campaign.

In the 56th minute, another break in play happened as the substitute was soon substituted, as Bambo Diaby was withdrawn with blood all over his shirt, after a clash of heads in the Rovers penalty area, as Dominic Iorfa came onto take his place after a lengthy stoppage in play.

Two minutes later, the 7,000 Wednesday fans behind Pears’ goal were sent into dreamland as they took the lead once again courtesy of Marvin Johnson’s second goal against Rovers this season, having netted in the reverse fixture at Hillsborough. After Sammie Szmodics was dispossessed inside the Wednesday half, with him left appealing for a foul, Josh Smith waved play on as the visitors pounced. Ike Ugbo drove forwards finding Anthony Musaba on the overlap. The winger then delivered a low cross towards the back-post, as Rovers’ unorganised defence retreated, but Johnson was on-hand at the back-post to stroke a first-time finish home in-front of the away support for 2-1, as the Darwen End broke out into pandemonium.

In the 61st minute, the game’s first booking was awarded to Szmodics who broke out into a fit of rage against the official after being on the wrong side of an offside call.

Matters soon turned worse for Rovers who visibly imploded in the 64th minute as Wednesday doubled their advantage and netted a third goal without having to even move a muscle, courtesy of gaffe worthy of a ‘football funnies’ highlight reel that Aynsley Pears and Dominic Hyam would not want to see again. With no relative pressure from the away side, Dom Hyam rolled the ball back to his goalkeeper who completely misjudged and mistimed his kick as he failed to get a connection on the ball which hit his heel and somehow rolled back towards his own goal. Despite scrambling for fear of giving away an indirect free-kick in the box, Pears just lost control of himself as he could only watch the ball trickle into the back of his own net for 3-1 in bizarre fashion.

Rovers reacted in the 67th minute with their first change of the game as former Wednesday loanee, John Buckley came on against his former employers to replace Sondre Tronstad.

Liam Palmer became the first visiting player to see yellow after tripping Sam Gallagher with 69 minutes on the clock.

Two minutes later, Rovers had a chance to reduce the deficit after a fine through-ball by Callum Brittain split the heart of the Wednesday defence, but Szmodics’ couldn’t keep his finish on the stretch down underneath the crossbar.

Anthony Musaba was causing problems for Rovers down the right as he managed to break through in the 73rd minute, yet a fine save from Pears saw the goalkeeper somewhat redeem his earlier errors, to keep Rovers within half a chance of gaining something from the game.

After a fantastic last-ditch tackle to deny Wednesday’s fourth, Scott Wharton was unable to continue as he hobbled off the pitch, helped by Rovers’ medical staff, before being replaced by Dilan Markanday as Rovers altered their system to a 4-3-3.

With 77 minutes gone, Hayden Carter was the next to see the flash of yellow from Josh Smith’s pocket as Rovers became flustered and desperate after the defender brough down Ike Ugbo.

Sheffield Wednesday soon made a triple change to try and add more energy into their side as they looked to protect their lead with Callum Patterson, Michael Smith and Djeidi Gassama replacing Anthony Musaba, Josh Windass and Ike Ugbo.

Rovers nearly managed to reduce the deficit back to one goal in the 82nd minute when Dom Hyam rose highest to connect with Harry Pickering’s corner, but despite it leaving James Beadle scrambling, the young goalkeeper tipped it over the bar for another corner that the visitors cleared.

Rovers soon made a triple change of their own late in the 85th minute, albeit probably later than it should have been as Ben Chrisene and Brighton duo, Andrew Moran and Yasin Ayari replaced Tyrhys Dolan, Harry Pickering and Joe Rankin-Costello.

As the clock hit 90 minutes, Josh Smith allocated for a whopping minimum of 11 minutes to be added onto the end of the tie which got some Rovers fans’ hopes up of a late comeback. What that did do, however was force Wednesday – who were well within their right – to become more rigid and defiant in their approach as they became deeper, playing exclusively on the break.

With two minutes of the added 11 gone, Dom Hyam also picked up a booking for fouling substitute Djeidi Gassama. That led to Will Vaulks trying his luck from the subsequent free-kick, but Pears was there to dive to his left to make the save.

Vaulks soon saw himself go in the book after he fouled Buckley in the middle of the park.

Despite there still being eight minutes remaining of the allocated 11, the game was more or less over as soon as the third Wednesday goal went in, with Rovers unable to really show any character or ability to ever overcome Wednesday’s passion, backing and tactical astuteness as Rovers suffered their 10th home defeat of the campaign, which gives them the third worst home record in the division with just 24 points from 22 games – a far cry from the fourth place, 43 point, six defeat Ewood season they had in 2022-23.

There’s really not much one can say about a performance like that. Rovers looked a bag of nerves from start to finish, a complete contrast from last week’s dogged, spirited performance against a ferocious Elland Road. Rovers looked completely void of attacking ideas from the start and were once again playing a one-dimensional way to try and break down a side that were more than happy to sit back in the closing stages and take the fight to a side who are physically poor, in Rovers.

With two games left of the campaign, Rovers have somehow managed to drop themselves back into the relegation conversation, but sit three points clear of Birmingham City in 22nd. Rovers have 49 points and a negative goal-difference of -16 from the 44 games played.

Speaking of the last two games, Rovers’ final fixture at Ewood Park this season sees them host beaten FA Cup semi-finalists, Coventry City on Saturday 27th April at 3pm, before a final day bonanza at the King Power Stadium, against Leicester City on Saturday 4th May at 12:30pm. Rovers will be hoping that Coventry’s exploits all the way to penalties and their outside chance of securing a playoff spot will preoccupy them, whilst also pleading that Leicester can somehow wrap up promotion early, with the two games they have before they play Rovers.