On screen, Pipa’s beautiful lobbed pass in to the area as the clock ticked towards the end of the regulation 90 looked like a hopeful and wasteful punt until the imposing figure of Naby Sarr appeared from the left, took a fantastic first touch and smashed home the winner in to the top corner.
As in 2019, on the very same date, Town ended this terrible year with a victory over the same opponents and by the same score line. It is to be hoped that the uplifting performance will not precede a year like the one now ending.
As so often, Town followed a disappointing display with a much improved performance against a decent Rovers side who rather failed to rise above the ordinary despite carrying intermittent threat and forcing an equaliser they barely deserved on the run of play having capitalised on the hosts’ failure to add a second from a variety of good moves.
If anything, the visitors shaded a relatively even first half and certainly had the best of the chances. Town were grateful for an excellent Toffolo block in the very first minute as Blackburn took control of the first half hour, culminating in two chances for Armstrong. The first saw Schofield make a genuinely world class save down to his left as Rovers’ marksman fired in a forceful shot from 5 yards, while his second opportunity was plonked in to the side netting from close in and completely unmarked.
Town moved the ball well at times but troubled Kaminski in the opposition goal only once when Bacuna, who was far more effective and disciplined in this game than in too many others, latched on to a deep cross at the far post forcing a good, if regulation, save.
Towards the end of a reasonably entertaining but far from flawless half, Toffolo should perhaps have done better when he was on the end of a flowing Town move rather than slicing his attempt wide. It was, however, a sign of things to come with the Terriers growing in to the game as the half progressed.
O’Brien, still struggling to regain the form he showed in the before times, gradually worked himself in to influencing the game from the left and produced a second half performance much more like his old self.
It was O’Brien who punctured Rovers’ constantly to create good openings in the final third, but hesitation and misplaced passes too often thwarted the home side.
He was also unceremoniously chopped down by Lenihan early in the second half. The Blackburn defender was either trying to create a diversion by claiming, with appropriate dramatics, that Campbell had stamped on him whilst prone or the Town striker had, indeed, extracted revenge for the assault. Either explanation could be true of an unedifying spectacle which was only exceeded when iFollow lingered far too long on a shot of Tony Mowbray excavating his lugs.
By now the far more progressive and dynamic of the two teams, Town took the lead from a superbly delivered Mbenza corner. Naby Sarr found space in the area and planted a header past a bemused Blackburn rearguard.
Taking advantage of the visitors’ lack of fluency, Town produced their best football following the goal, and just lacked composure to put the Lancastrians to bed. Most of the threat emanated from the O’Brien/Toffolo partnership down the left, a combination looking increasingly promising and necessary in the absence of Koroma.
Precision was lacking however and as a second goal eluded Town, Mowbray took a break from his aural grooming and made positive changes from the bench, a luxury not afforded to Corberán who, it should be said, repeatedly, has exceeded any expectations we could reasonably have given the injury list on top of a packed schedule.
The addition of Dack, Gallagher and, later, Downing increased Rovers’ potential potency though possibly at the expense of their previous defensive solidity, and Gallagher sounded a warning on the three quarter mark when converting from an offside position.
With less than 5 minutes to go, Rovers claimed an equaliser which vindicated Mowbray’s decisions. Relieved of what must have been enough wax for a candle, the under fire boss saw Gallagher react first to a cross parried by Schofield and it seemed that Town were to be sickened again by a late goal.
To their credit, Town reacted well and grabbed the 3 points with Sarr’s unlikely but excellent strike. Blackburn were unable to take advantage of the generous time added by a below average referee, and a winning end to the year was secured, reigniting thoughts of a play off challenge which is still likely to be beyond the current squad and, should it arise, would surely be far too soon.
For now, the growing gap to the bottom 3 should remain the focus. A mid 40s point tally is not very far away and a continued run of excellent home form, along with an upturn away should see Town safe by late February and maybe sooner.
Good January recruitment would hasten the survival date – the quality and experience on the bench in recent times is untenable, though being forced to pick the same starters game after game may not be the handicap commonly assumed in these days of rotation.
Another good Championship side vanquished at home and any remaining doubts about Town’s competitiveness in this ever challenging league have surely disappeared.
Happy New Year everyone.