Reda Khadra’s goal just shy of the hour-mark – which capitalised upon an all-too-familiar Stoke City defensive mix-up – was the difference as Blackburn Rovers leapfrogged their hosts to move into fourth in the Sky Bet Championship.
Michael O’Neill named three changes to his Stoke side as Ben Wilmot, Morgan Fox and Tyrese Campbell entered the starting line-up following the midweek loss to Bristol City. Usual captain Joe Allen missed out through suspension, so James Chester donned the Potters’ armband.
Blackburn fielded a pair of changes. Khadra returned to the starting XI after appearing as a substitute in the win over Peterborough United, while Jan Paul van Hecke made the squad for the first time since the opening weekend of November.
Story of the match
Stoke started far better than their guests, applying early pressure which kept Blackburn’s defensive ranks on their toes. City failed to properly test goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski before the travelling side eventually settled into the tie.
In fact, it was Rovers who saw the first chance of the day go begging. When Chilean Ben Brereton Diaz broke in behind on the left flank, Stoke glovesman Adam Davies sauntered from his goal but was left stranded as Brereton Diaz lifted a deft chip over the onrushing 29-year-old. With the travelling support already on its feet, the visitors watched in horror as the ball spun inches wide of the far post.
Blackburn squandered a clear-cut chance again within 10 minutes when Khadra whipped a sweet cross into the back post for Ryan Nyambe. The full-back was unsighted as the delivery came in, and appeared startled when the ball somehow flew over the last defender. With little time to react, Nyambe directed an awkward header well wide of the mark.
The hosts had their first shot at goal saved comfortably in the 23rd minute. Following a short period of dizzying pinball on the edge of the Rovers box, the ball sat up for Mario Vrancic to try his luck from range. Vrancic’s effort was rushed, however, and the ball was no issue for Kaminski.
Stoke finished the half with a strong period of possession but Blackburn held firm with their backs against the wall and protected Kaminski’s goal.
The Potters started the second half just as they did the first, and could have taken the lead within four minutes. Romaine Sawyers brought the ball past a defender before firing a curling effort towards the bottom-right corner. Kaminski was down quickly and saved well.
Blackburn took the lead just two minutes later. A cheap loss of possession amongst Stoke’s defence allowed Khadra to steal the ball on the edge of the penalty area, and the German drove into the box, unmarked, and powered a low finish beyond Davies for his second league goal this term.
Rovers came agonisingly close to doubling their advantage on the hour-mark when captain Darragh Lenihan fired across the face of goal from an awkward angle. Despite the bodies in position for the apparent cross-cum-shot, the ball eluded any further touch and sailed behind for a goal-kick.
Tempers flared with 15 minutes left on the clock, when Davies and Blackburn substitute Tyrhys Dolan engaged in an altercation after the whistle had been blown. With the cavalry charging in from either side, referee Tim Robinson brokered peace and cautioned both parties.
In the dying minutes, Rovers’ substitute goalkeeper, Aynsley Pears, was forced into a spectacular save off a header from Danny Batth. Pears had ventured from his line to claim a cross when Batth appeared from seemingly nowhere to get a strong head to the ball, but the ‘keeper made a superb one-handed, reaction save to keep his team’s lead intact.
Blackburn dug in for the final minutes and weathered a promising Stoke storm with resolute defending. Once on the ball, Tony Mowbray’s men slowed play down excellently to see out the victory.
Takeaway from the match
Ben Brereton Diaz deserves a shot at the Premier League
Brereton Diaz was formidable. His name may not have been on the scoresheet come the final whistle, but his awesome pace and brilliant mind on the ball created many opportunities for Blackburn to go forward. A move to one of the so-called ‘Top Six’ might not suit his style of play but he could hold his own in a midtable side. The Chilean has a technical ability that goes beyond the calling of the Championship, but with the way his Rovers side are going currently, it could be with them that he breaks into the top-flight limelight.
Man of the match
Reda Khadra – Blackburn Rovers
Khadra was excellent until his substitution, on the most part. He was prepared to run at the defence (although at times could have benefitted from laying the ball off for a teammate) and brought explosiveness that was largely absent from the game. His game was justly rewarded with the winning goal.