Town concluded their Festive season fixtures with a dogged goalless draw at a sodden Ewood Park and enhanced their credibility as a playoff contender by thwarting the form team of the division in a ruggedly entertaining encounter.
A larger than anticipated away following, no doubt enticed by a too-rare pay on the day opportunity and Town’s recent form, caused difficulties which resulted in a 15-minute delay to the kickoff, which also allowed a little more time for the pitch to drain of excess water.
That additional drainage didn’t entirely resolve the problem of parts of the pitch being too waterlogged to allow for free flow of the ball and the visitors put themselves under pressure as a result of the ground problems on a few occasions in a frenzied opening 20 minutes completely dominated by Rovers.
For all their possession, thrust and aggression, clearly built on high levels of confidence, only an excellent break and shot by Khadra, which crashed off the bar, caused great concern as an individual moment, but the pressure was intense and unrelenting.
Unable to advance out of their own half and simply not coping with conditions as well as their hosts, Town squandered a glorious chance to break when Holmes fell over his own feet, presumably in a puddle, with lots of options opening up in front of him.
It was just the type of break they would have been hoping for, knowing that Blackburn would be on the front foot early but Town had to wait until midway through the half before getting anywhere near the home goal.
Assister par excellence Toffolo supplied another very presentable chance for Holmes who was unable to match his finish at the City Ground with a diving header which was well stopped.
It would be inaccurate to say that this brought a massive change in the rhythm of the game and a big, if incorrect, penalty shout on the half-hour had been precipitated by a poor loss of possession by Holmes on the halfway line allowing Blackburn a rare opportunity to attack with Town’s defence on their heels. Brereton, who was rarely as effective as he had been at the John Smith’s stadium, was probably correct that Lees had fouled him outside the box but his dramatic fall several seconds later as Pearson muscled him off the ball fooled no one.
Town continued to grow into the game and having weathered the best Rovers had thrown at them with all 3 central defenders contributing to a fine rearguard performance, along with the highly dependable Nicholls, the evident gap between the two sides began to narrow quite quickly.
More Jaded Commentary after the video!
Still, the sanctuary of halftime was more welcome for the visitors who had worked exceptionally hard as a team to thwart a highly dangerous attack. The pitch condition improved as time went on, which probably helped as Town simply didn’t handle the going as well as their hosts.
There was a final scare for Town before the break as Rovers had another penalty appeal waved away as the final act. An attempted cross hit O’Brien from short range and the referee rightly and immediately dismissed the claim.
The second half was far more comfortable as Rovers ran out of ideas and were consistently guilty of making basic errors; the number of poor passes which left the field of play was quite staggering for a team which would finish the day 2nd in the table.
Not that life was comfortable for Town’s defence, but it seemed a lot easier for them to manoeuvre Blackburn’s forwards where they wanted them to be and the threat they posed was noticeably diminished.
Pearson, Lees and, particularly, Colwill were immense at the back, rarely putting a foot wrong, intercepting with aplomb and keeping Blackburn at arm’s length for long periods.
The youngster on loan from Chelsea was outstanding. Poised, elegant and supremely confident, he breezed through a game against one of the most potent attacks in the division. Time and space are his currency, rarely needlessly rushing into tackles and not once on this afternoon. At 18, his future looks assured at the very top level and it is a pleasure to witness the beginning of what could be a glittering career.
Levi’s effortless quality was matched by his fellow defenders more basic qualities and, behind them, Nicholls had another flawless game exuding confidence from the last line.
Town flattered to deceive a little going forward when they had the chance, but a lovely ball through to Holmes should have seen the diminutive midfielder test the keeper at the very least but one touch too many meant the angles disappeared and his shot hit the side netting.
He was nearly freed again later in the half but Dolan, a fresh substitute, never looked like losing the foot race. Inexplicably, Holmes then launched a challenge from behind which should have been punished with dismissal. The only thing which saved him was a slight push by another Rovers’ player which the referee, incorrectly but understandably, may have interpreted as the cause of the lunge.
At the other end, Thomas made a routine clearance from the line having been well-positioned to deal with a rather unthreatening header, and right at the death, a horrid Lees’ back pass nearly sold Nicholls short but the custodian dealt with probably his most concerning moment of the day with good clearance.
A very creditable end to the holiday games, then, including shutting out two form teams away from home, and collecting 10 points from 12. Things could have turned out differently in three of these games, but managing to win or not lose games is key to success in the Championship, and it is perhaps time to acknowledge that luck is earned and that this team has created the momentum which delivers such results.
2022 is looking very promising.