We all know that at this stage of the season it’s less about performances than results. In that context, with Yeovil and now Barnsley unable to overtake us, we might already have enough points, if Doncaster lose their final game away at Leicester. We know that a win on Tuesday night will see us safe, a point and Blackpool and us could play out 90 minutes of keep-ball to both stay up (barring a dramatic shift in the goal difference). So in that context today was a missed opportunity but no more. It was also a game that we can have no complaints about losing.
We knew that this was a game that Blackburn had to win to have any chance of the play-offs and after 10 minutes I thought that if we emerged with a point it would be a good result. Blackburn weren’t brilliant, but they were strong, carried an aerial threat, and were quite frankly better than us in key areas. Like most games it could have turned out differently, if we had levelled with the penalty, or prevented a very preventable first goal for them. Level at the break and who knows, attacking the Covered End. Instead we conceded a second and, despite getting one back out of nothing, having let in a third were grateful that it didn’t end in a rout.
The team saw a predictable back four, Jackson and Poyet in central midfield, Cousins and Harriott occupying the wider berths, Ajdarevic in the hole, and Sordell operating as a lone striker. It wasn’t a bad set-up, especially with Sordell on a high after his hat-trick, and the early exchanges were fairly even. Harriott on the left was involved and AA caused them some problems, but what was lacking seemed to be precision. It was notable that early on Fox misplaced a pass to Harriott then the latter lost the ball in a bad position which almost cost us. Blackburn must have looked at it and thought ‘keep the shape and the discipline and on the balance of play we should win’.
That impression was only strengthened by the first we conceded. A fairly innocuous ball in from the right should have been cleared but their guy went for it with more intent and got in a header, one that surely should have been saved by Hamer but somehow a combination of him and the post saw the ball creep in and Hamer emerge looking hurt. A bad one to let in and a surprising way to go behind to a team that looked capable of making things happen in more conventional ways.
Our lack of precision continued as Ajdarevic turned well to get in a shot only for it to curl over the bar and as a free kick won on the edge of the box – a curious one as the linesman flagged for the foul, the ref waved advantage, and then brought the play back for the foul when that led to nothing – saw Jackson put in a very tame effort. Perhaps that was on his mind as minutes later a long ball to Harriott in the box saw him take a heavy touch but then get taken down by their defender for a penalty. I’m not entirely sure of the rules here either, but this was a guy moving inside and about to get a shot off and fouled for a spot kick. Why no red card? It was surely a goalscoring opportunity. No matter, we have the penalty. But instead of Jackson stepping up Sordell grabbed the ball and made it plain this one was for him. Fair enough, just score. Instead it was a weak effort at a saveable height and Robinson chose the right way to go. Exactly why Jackson didn’t demand the ball only he and Sordell know.
Behind at the break and the onus is on us to turn the screws. Instead they scored again as a free kick was delivered well and a contest in the air between their forwards plus defenders and ours was won comfortably by them, with a header planted into the net. Now we had a mountain to climb but out of the blue we reduced the arrears, a goal entirely of Sordell’s making. He received the ball with back to goal outside the box, but turned well, took a touch, and then curled a shot into the bottom corner. A flash of genuine class and one that really meant it was game on.
Almost immediately we made our first change, with Ghoochannejhad coming on for Harriott. But before we had the time to see how that would work out the game was effectively sealed by a third for them. Cousins lost the ball badly and this time it cost us. They worked it forward and with decent exchanges played in a guy who scored.
With a cushion restored for them the onus was back on us to do something about it and more changes followed. Church came on for Ajdarevic and we switched to a sort of 4-4-3, with Cousins now searching for yet another unsuitable role. We buzzed around a bit but failed to create a decent scoring opportunity. The change that I felt was needed was to bring on Wilson to play wide right as Solly, not surprisingly still feeling his way back, was seldom getting forward and we needed some fresh impetus down that flank. Instead the final change saw Petrucci come on for Jackson and while there were a few hopeful shots we ended the game feeling grateful for the woodwork and a couple of Hamer saves preventing the final scoreline being wider.
We were beaten by a better side on the day as we conceded poor goals and failed to take the few opportunities that came our way, most obviously the penalty. It made it for us something of a game of heroes and villains. Sordell fluffed the penalty then scored a superb goal out of the blue. Jackson put in a poor effort from a free kick, didn’t take the penalty, then almost curled in a second-half effort from another set piece. Hamer made a hash of their first goal but then helped to keep the scoreline vaguely respectable. All adds up to a collective performance that wasn’t good enough to beat a decent team.
No player ratings as really they don’t matter any more. Win on Tuesday night and we can draw a line under a season that we all have differing opinions about and start to think about the next. Lose or draw and we have a sweaty final round to negotiate, one where the it will still be in our hands but which we can do without, especially as one of my nieces decided some months ago to get spliced on.