MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Sunderland 1 – 5 Blackburn Rovers

MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Sunderland 1 – 5 Blackburn Rovers

Rovers stopped themselves being the butt of any April Fools’ Day jokes as they managed to ease their relegation concerns by grabbing a much overdue victory on road after dismantling Sunderland with a five-star performance!

As Rovers continued their fight to stay in the division, John Eustace managed to get himself a team together, despite the short two-day turnaround from their 1-0 home defeat to Ipswich Town on Good Friday. One alteration was made to the team as Sam Gallagher returned to lead the line as he replaced Ben Chrisene who dropped to the bench, as Rovers continued with their 4-2-3-1 system which saw Tyrhys Dolan take the wing after vacating the striker spot for Gallagher. Scott Wharton was set to make his 200th career appearance which has spanned across multiple loan clubs as well as his boyhood side.

With 3pm fast approaching at the Stadium of Light, it was the Rovers who got the ball rolling after referee John Busby’s opening whistle as they were aiming to grab all three points which would help ease their fight against relegation heading into the final straight of the season.

After three minutes had past before Adil Aouchiche managed to grab the first attempt at goal as his weak header was well held by Aynsley Pears.

Time passed as both sides tried to ease into the game as Rovers were next to try and break the deadlock. Ryan Hedges picked out Joe Rankin-Costello on the edge of the area as he set himself up to strike at goal to try and replicate his disallowed goal on Friday evening, but his effort was blocked.

Rovers were soon forced into an early substitution after an injury to Harry Pickering saw him unable to continue after 20 minutes as Ben Chrisene came on to replace him.

Moments after the change, Rovers managed to craft an opportunity to strike from range as Tyrhys Dolan eyed up a long-range effort, but his effort dragged wide.

Rovers increased their tempo as they managed to get two consecutive attempts at goal as Rankin-Costello tried his luck again from range after 26 minutes but his strike deflected into the open arms of Anthony Patterson.

Rovers’ momentum continued in stunning fashion as they managed to break the game’s deadlock and strike first in the tie through their talismanic attacker, Sammie Szmodics who grabbed his 22nd of the league season and his 28th overall in all competitions. Tyrhys Dolan broke away and managed to link up well with the freshly introduced Ben Chrisene who combined with a one-two, before the winger fed the Rovers goalscorer who showed his quality by slotting the ball with his left-foot across the face of goal and into the inside of the right-hand post to give Rovers a much-desired 1-0 lead!

Seven minutes later, Sammie Szmodics felt as though his business wasn’t complete as he decided to go ahead and grab a brace to put daylight between the two sides as he poked the ball past Patterson to sit on the cusp of a potential second Rovers hattrick. After Tyrhys Dolan squirmed out of the corner to slip through Joe Rankin-Costello, the midfielder tiptoed in from the byline and skipped past Luke O’Nien before finding Szmodics who ran onto the ball and poked it past the goalkeeper for 2-0 and his 29th of the campaign!

Rovers came close to a third on the 37th minute after Ryan Hedges sent Rankin-Costello through who saw his 20-yarder saved by Patterson.

As half-time approached, referee John Busby called for a minimum of six minutes to be added onto the end of the first period, however neither side managed to really cause havoc at either end during the time added on as the half-time whistle soon blew with Rovers in the driving seat.

Interim boss, Mike Dodds would have been fuming with his side’s lack of defensive solidity which saw Rovers tiptoe and finish, twice, on their own patch. Despite all the turmoil that both sides have seen this season with their managerial changes, the Sunderland Head Coach would have been reminding his side of their quality and would have wanted them to put things right in the second-half against a side who have been hapless in recent times.

With Rovers on course for their first away win since November’s victory away at Stoke City, John Eustace would have been delighted to be on-course for his first official victory in the Rovers hotseat. The boss would have been pleased that his side had come into the interval with a two goal lead and would have wanted them to continue their fine display in the second-half, however he would have undoubtedly reminded his players of the task at hand to maintain their lead given the attacking quality that Sunderland possessed in Patrick Roberts and Jobe Bellingham.

Once the players returned for the second period, it was the hosts who restarted the game in-search of some spirit to mount an Istanbulian comeback against Rovers, to try and keep their incredibly slim hopes of a playoff place alive.

Rovers stormed out of the blocks in the second-half and managed to put further distance between the two sides as Ryan Hedges grabbed his second goal of the season by finishing off the move that he started! After winning the ball in his own half, he found Gallagher who nutmegged O’Nien before returning the ball to the Welshman. Hedges then strolled into the box and was picked out by Gallagher before a composed left-footed effort trebled Rovers’ lead to 3-0!

With 49 minutes gone, Rovers played a free-kick quickly as Szmodics latched onto the ball seeking his hattrick, but his effort at goal flew wide of the mark.

That didn’t bother Rovers, though as Tyrhys Dolan soon made it four to equal Rovers’ biggest league win of the season – a 4-0 win away at Queens Park Rangers. Hedges won the ball back, deep inside the Sunderland half following a Black Cats’ throw. The Welshman then added an assist to his goal by picking out Dolan who sidestepped two Red and White shirts before firing a strike that kissed the inside of the post before leaving Patterson rooted to his spot as 4-0 appeared on the scoreboard, much to the disbelief of all the Rovers fans!

Mike Dodds soon made a move from his bench to change the game’s momentum in the 55th minute via a triple change as Jack Clarke, Chris Rigg and former Rover, Bradley Dack came on to replace Patrick Roberts, Adil Aouchiche and Romaine Mundle.

Pierre Ekwah tried to galvanise his team back into the game on the hour mark, but his long-range effort zipped past the post.

Rovers soon made their second change of the game in the 67th minute as they looked to conserve their lead, their clean-sheet and some energy ahead of the final six games of the campaign as Andrew Moran took the place of Sam Gallagher who earned a well-deserved rest.

Hedges looked to combined with the fresh Moran in the 72nd minute but Patterson was on-hand to deny the Welshman a brace of his own.

After 74 minutes, Rovers again looked to their bench as Dilan Markanday and John Buckley came on to take the places of the rampant Joe Rankin-Costello and Ryan Hedges who put on a clinic for the travelling support.

Three minutes later, Sunderland managed to grab a goal to give what was left of their support, something to cheer about as the game entered it’s final 13 minutes, as 16-year-old, Chris Rigg managed to net his second league goal of the campaign. After Rovers’ defensive frailties reared their head again, Sunderland managed to get in-behind the Blues to give Rigg a tap-in that put a black mark on Rovers’ phenomenal afternoon as the gap between the teams was reduced to three goals at 4-1.

Despite that dampener, Rovers weren’t going to let Chris Rigg ruin their five-star performance as they managed to get themselves up the other end, four minutes later and net a fifth which made this game their highest scoring league game of the campaign at 5-1! John Buckley drove forwards and fed through Dilan Markanday down the right. The winger sped forwards and tied Callum Styles up before his deflected cross to the back-post was backheeled backwards, mid-air, by Szmodics into the path of Andrew Moran for a tap-in!

As the 90th minute ticked over on the watch, referee John Busby allocated a minimum of four minutes onto the end of the affair that had been well and truly over just moments after the break, in truth.

The 92nd minute did manage to conjure up a Sunderland chance as Jack Clarke and Bradley Dack combined with the former feeding the latter as the once Ewood favourite saw his effort denied by former teammate Pears, before he swallowed up Jobe Bellingham’s follow-up as the full-time whistle soon materialised after the remaining three minutes.

Rovers and their travelling supporters were left delighted with the display that had been executed on the pitch as they showed their quality at both ends of the pitch – for the most part – and fought themselves to their first away victory in four months and their first win in ten league games. Rovers today showed they were full value for the victory and for the vital three points which may keep their heads above water as we head into the final six games of the campaign.

Speaking of the table, Rovers have managed to climb the league and put considerable distance between themselves and the bottom three as they move up to 17th place, hitting 45 points and healing their goal-difference to a considerable margin as although they remain on a negative -10, they are now the joint-lowest of the bottom eight, along with Plymouth Argyle.

Rovers will be looking to continue their good form in their next outing, as they return to Ewood Park to host Southampton on Saturday 6th April at 3pm. Following their clash with the top-six side, they will make the long trip to the West Country to face Bristol City at Ashton Gate, four days later, on Wednesday 10th April at 7:45pm, before swapping Lancashire for Yorkshire on Saturday 13th April when Leeds United play hosts for the 12:30pm start, in a game broadcast live on Sky Sports.