Streaming from the hollowed out husk of Ewood Park – Blackburn’s support appears to have dwindled to the ultra loyal who attend even in the face of the vandalism their club has been subjected to over the past half decade – Town supporters were scratching their perplexed heads over another dominant, often exhilarating, performance which could only garnish a single point.
With Mooy providing the artistry, Hogg the steel and Van La Parra the excitement, the visitors had ripped in to their hosts from the kick off and would have been good value for a 3 or 4 goal lead by the interval but for their now familiar profligacy once the relentless possession reached the important end of the pitch.
Instead, a bewildered Rovers, who had barely threatened and were denied even the briefest opportunity for a platform to build a performance, shuffled off the pitch level courtesy of a soft but awardable penalty after being comprehensively outplayed in all areas. It can only be hoped that their level of embarrassment was equal to their opponents’ frustration at not having beaten them to a pulp.
The conundrum of a team which can master all elements of the game between the penalty areas – the passing, movement and aggression overwhelmed an increasingly bewildered home side – yet becomes afflicted by hesitation and doubt in sight of the goal is baffling and becoming an urgent problem to resolve.
It certainly didn’t help that last season’s top scorer managed to be entirely anonymous as his team mates ran amok. Seemingly both uninterested and disinterested at the same time, Wells’ display was lethargic at best and no better illustrated late in the second half when Kachunga, from much further away, was the first to try and capitalise on a Steele spill. That he lasted beyond half time was a mystery; his contribution to an otherwise superb team performance was minimal to say the least.
The ferocious start by the Terriers saw them take the lead early. Only 6 minutes of complete domination were needed to force a couple of corners, some attempts on goal which were scrambled away and create palpable fear in the home ranks.
Lowe delivered an excellent corner – he was far better at them than Mooy who invariably hit the first defender – and Palmer timed his run to perfection to score easily from a few yards out.
Rather than adopting entrenchment to defend the early lead, Town turned the screw and tortured Rovers with an insatiable appetite for the ball, a hugely improved tempo from the Wigan game and a determination to keep their opponents on the ropes.
An inordinate amount of corners reflected the dynamics of the game. The incessant probing of the visitors, almost entirely on the front foot, was met with a mixture of defensive resilience – often desperate – fatal hesitancy and rank bad finishing. Delight at Town’s intoxicating style was tempered by the rising frustration at their inability to turn their prodigious play in to match winning goals. Even just one more, in a half which deserved to see them open up a chasm would have buried their hugely inferior hosts.
Chances came and went with monotonous regularity. Oddly, these chances often seemed to fall at the feet of defenders, with Hefele denied twice and Cranie – who was excellent throughout – blazing over when he really should have scored, and hitting the bar with a header.
At one point, it seemed that everyone bar Ward and Wells would be given opportunity to score and, predictably, retribution for the wastefulness was just around the corner.
Having created virtually nothing – one harmless header following a free kick fully 30 minutes in – a rare venture forward by Blackburn resulted in a throw in which was directed towards Danny Graham who let the ball run past him to evade Hefele’s attentions. Sadly, and it is a toss up between naivety and recklessness, the recalled German put a hand on the striker who went down to win a penalty.
Though soft, the contact was entirely unnecessary; not only was Mooy covering and would dealt with the routine threat easily, Graham simply isn’t quick enough to have capitalised on any error.
The much travelled and constantly over rated Graham scored from the spot. It was the only conceivable way he could have scored in a game where he and Gallagher had to feed from meagre scraps largely involving hopeful punts upfield to relieve pressure.
The penalty decision served to heap more frustration on to the shoulders of the away support as, with one mind, thoughts drifted to the travesties on Monday. It is enough to fuel illogical conspiracy theories about the way Town are falling foul of refereeing absurdities this season.
Further chances were spurned in the remainder of the half, and to their credit, the comical injustice of being level with a very poor home side didn’t quell Town’s ambition or desire, but execution remained elusive.
In truth, the second half rarely hit the heights of the first. While Town maintained their dominance and continued to create promising situations, the chances became scarcer and less threatening as, to their credit, Blackburn’s defence coped better with the visitors’ thrusts, which were perceptibly less intense.
A rising drive by Mooy narrowly missed the target and the Australian forced an excellent save from Steele followed by yet another good block from the rebound, while Palmer’s silky skills took him in to good positions but less good decision making.
Town’s pressure remained robust and unrelenting but the guile of the first half dipped and as the game wore on, the home side looked increasingly dangerous from breakaways.
Late on, Hogg had to intervene to stop what looked like a certain goal as Blackburn’s increased pace (introduced by substitution) exposed Town’s attacking intent in the manner exploited by Wigan in the last game.
Thankfully, the travesty of a home winner was avoided, but even a point seemed like a defeat following a hugely encouraging and commanding display where the statistics were as remarkable as they were frustrating. With just short of 70% possession – a figure untainted by inconsequential passing as has been the case on too many occasions- and 29 efforts on goal, it barely needs a report to point to the chronic goal scoring problem which has blighted an otherwise hugely encouraging season.
Late breakaways and a stupid decision in the area aside, Town’s defending (as a team) was much improved. In part, the quality of the opposition determined a much easier away day than in the recent past, but this would be to ignore an ability to largely smother the intent of that opposition with hard work, smart possession and good discipline.
One point from two games which should have garnered six is, of course, irritating to the point of vexation, but both games showcased the inherent ability of a squad which, while lacking essential ruthlessness, is worthy of patience to see how it blossoms in the second half of the season.
After yesterday, however, the future of Wells is clouded with doubt. It was almost perverse for him to perform so badly in such a team display – his heart simply didn’t look in it and a replacement in January is surely the priority for the club, however much that is easier to say than do.
That aside, however, Town were a joy to behold for large segments of the game and the faith in Wagner’s philosophies should have been revived among those there to witness it.