The Cowley brothers will have learned a great deal from an Ewood Park encounter which failed to convince that the neuroses which hang over this squad have been banished by recent good results despite earning a good point against a similarly enigmatic Rovers side.
Cruising for 20 minutes and easily containing hosts who looked toothless and disjointed while unleashing Diakhaby’s pace and trickery on a regular basis, Town carried an air of confidence which felt defining.
A debatable penalty on 11 minutes created by some quick, skilful Diakhaby feet presented the perfect platform to build upon the pre international break form and Grant’s clinical execution gave the visitors a lead which their early dominance deserved.
At this point, Rovers appeared fragile and were unable to muster the passing movements which appeared later in the half and a second goal in the period of dominance would surely have buried them. Promising positions, however, did not translate in to opportunities and disaster was just around the corner.
Not for the first time in his short career with the Terriers, an Elphick error handed the home team an initiative they had rarely looked capable of creating for themselves. Taking the ball from Grabara at a goal kick, the veteran defender completely misread the strength of Rovers’ press and tried a suicidal cross penalty area ball to the distant Schindler which was predictably intercepted and fed to Dack who had the simple task of squaring to Holtby to equalise.
The error was bad enough but, if anything, the response was worse.
Blackburn’s confidence soared, Town dropped further and further back and abandoned all of the things which had given them ascendancy in the first place.
The home side, visibly invigorated, began to move the ball with purpose and accuracy and with better final balls, should have buried the Terriers in an overwhelmingly dominant 25 minutes when a lot of the old frailties came roaring back like a secondary infection.
Inevitably, Town cracked by failing to deal with a stationary ball on the edge of the box and the talented Dack took full advantage with a beautiful strike in to the bottom corner just after the half hour.
By this point, the visitors’ midfield had ceased functioning. Hogg, as he has done for much of the season, plays as if pining for the more talented colleagues he is used to while Chalobah continues to struggle. Finding a balance in the middle of the park has to be the Cowley brothers’ most pressing priority.
Fortunately, the alarming performance dip, inspired by Elphick, wasn’t fully capitalised upon by Blackburn but as all the old failings flooded back, the delicate psyche of a battered club was exposed.
The second half continued in similar vein. Town looked more resilient – it was difficult for them to look more fragile – but, even so, it was the home side constructing the moves and dictating play. Dack narrowly failed to connect with a wayward Armstrong effort; a third goal at that point would have surely spelled the end.
Perhaps a little belatedly, the struggling Chalobah was replaced by Bacuna who provided an instant injection of forward momentum and had a decent effort just past the post which seemed to stir the visitors.
A further blocked effort was quickly followed by an equaliser. The otherwise poor Kachunga assisted a clumsy looking one two with Bacuna who created crucial space before firing in the leveller.
It was the home side’s turn to deflate following a setback and for 15 minutes, the visitors took control with some bursting runs by O’Brien and Bacuna creating problems for the home defence. Several corners suggested that the Cowleys’ famed set piece innovations were being introduced to the squad even if the execution was poor.
Bacuna had the best chance to heap misery on a home side who were visibly wilting under pressure, but his effort took a deflection over the bar.
Town’s newly found dominance, however, left them open to counter attack and perhaps two cynical and punished fouls by Hogg and Kachunga to prevent danger persuaded the visitors that a point was a good return from a curate’s egg performance.
For their part, Rovers brought on Sam Gallagher for Holtby in a move which rather abandoned their attractive approach play in favour of the aerial route.
Despite enjoying most of the pressure for the last 10 minutes, the ploy played in to Town’s hands as both Schindler and Elphick were more comfortable with the ball in the air and, to their credit, Town dealt with the late assault pretty well.
Town replaced Grant with Frazier Campbell who proceeded to put in a performance reminiscent of Alan Lee; he charged around committing foul after foul despite an early booking and dangerously skirted the margins of the referee’s patience.
Campbell’s uncharacteristically rage fuelled cameo was almost over shadowed by the surprise appearance of Hadergjonaj who replaced the faded Diakhaby.
The Kosovan, who is surely on his way in the January window, managed to avoid putting in a single tackle and in one bizarre sequence was fooled by the same dummy three times and taken out of the play. It was like watching Charlie Brown refusing to believe that Lucy would snatch away the football before he kicked it, for the umpteenth time in a row.
While the home side finished the stronger, Town’s failure to turn their 15 minutes of second half dominance in to a win made this somewhat inevitable.
Both sides demonstrated why they are destined for mid table; periods of decent play replaced by anxiety and deflation with dashes of resilience thrown in should elevate both above danger but there was nothing to suggest either can catapult in to any sort of contention.
The Cowleys still have a lot of work to do, as they readily acknowledge, not least on the players’ mentality and finding answers to the midfield’s propensity for dysfunction but momentum was maintained, just.