SAM Gallagher`s late strike ensured Blackburn Rovers took all three points against Queens Park Rangers – but it won`t be the main talking point on a controversial afternoon at Ewood Park.
Rangers were denied a lead shortly after the hour when Conor Washington saw his header come back off the bar and bounce with great clarity over the line. The officials ignored the appeals and played on – rather summing up a frustrating afternoon for QPR.
After a dominant opening Rangers reverted to their shell and allowed Rovers a route into the game – in truth however it was a fixture that lacked quality, particularly in front of goal as the game lurched towards a seemingly stale conclusion.
It was Rovers however that made that extra grab for the points – the aforementioned Gallagher sliding home in injury time to seal the win for Blackburn.
Blackburn lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Jason Steele behind a back line of Ryan Nyambe, Gordon Greer, Darragh Lenihan and Jason Lowe. The midfield quartet consisted of Liam Feeney, Elliott Bennett, Charlie Mulgrew and Craig Conway with Sam Gallagher and top scorer Danny Graham leading the line.
Ian Holloway elected to remain unchanged from the draw away at Newcastle United, with QPR`s newest additions having to make do with a place on the bench.
Alex Smithies started behind a back five of Darnell Furlong, Nedum Onuoha, James Perch, Joel Lynch and Jake Bidwell. The midfield comprised of Pawel Wszolek, Massimo Luongo and Ryan Manning with Jamie Mackie once again partnering Conor Washington.
NYAMBE – GREER – LENIHAN – LOWE
FEENEY – BENNETT – MULGREW – CONWAY
GALLAGHER – GRAHAM
FURLONG – ONUOHA – PERCH – LYNCH – BIDWELL
WSZOLEK – LUONGO – MANNING
MACKIE – WASHINGTON
Queens Park Rangers were buoyed by a last gasp midweek own goal – helping them to a useful point up in the North East at promotion favourites Newcastle United. By comparison Rovers were dealt a hammer-blow by Leeds United late on to see a poor run of form continue for today`s home side.
Those confidence levels were played out on the pitch as Rangers were dominant in the early offing. Jamie Mackie and Conor Washington causing some real problems for a Rovers rearguard lacking in confidence.
First it was a newly-confident Washington that fed Mackie in the middle only for Steele to deny the forward. Massimo Luongo was next to test the home ‘keeper – forcing another decent save from the Blackburn stopper.
From the resulting corner Joel Lynch latched onto Ryan Manning`s centre only to find Steele in fine form once more – Washington then rounded off a thoroughly dominant five minutes of play when he shot from distance, not truly troubling a ‘keeper in Steele that was certainly earning his pay cheque for the week.
Blackburn started to come into the game a little more, with Rangers profligacy giving the hosts some heart – parity still maintained, the likes of Elliott Bennett and Liam Feeney now gaining a foot-hold in proceedings.
The latter chanced his arm from distance but failed to trouble a relative spectator in Alex Smithies. The blows continued to be traded as Washington was clearly in the mood for back to back goals when he shot from long-range – Steele more than equal to it.
The fixture entered somewhat of a lull, which typically suits the away side, but it was the home team in Blackburn Rovers that clearly craved the respite from a number of early chances conceded in this clash. Ryan Manning attempted to break that monotony but his shot was high, wide and handsome.
Sam Gallagher could have done better with ten minutes left in the first half when he latched onto a Craig Conway corner. He ghosted in but dollied a header over the bar when well-placed – a let off for Rangers who would no doubt have been devastated to go in behind after such a positive start.
Rangers were wobbling a little bit before the break and looked a fair distance away from the side that had started the half incredibly positively – but only Charlie Mulgrew was able to show glimpses of taking advantage. His ambitious shot comfortably saved by Smithies.
A useful start and a tepid ending – both sides would be hoping that a strong second half was on the way.
This was not one for the neutral as both sides continued to labour after the break. Indeed only Washington came closest to breaking the deadlock when he was fed by Manning and shot just wide of the left-hand upright.
James Perch then picked up a caution for a late tackle on Bennett – as we know with Perch, he`s only ever a ridiculous lunge away from an early bath. His role at the heart of defence still does not look natural, but with Grant Hall returning from injury and waiting in the wings, you wonder how long before that change is made again.
Then just after the hour mark came the moment of controversy – Darnell Furlong`s centre saw Conor Washington nod goal-bound. The ball came down off the bar and visibly over the line – not even subtly over the line. The officiating team glanced at each other and simply carried on – quite incredible scenes as the replay backs up that Washington should have been celebrating two in two.
Jamie Mackie made way for debutante Matt Smith as Rangers now looked for a little more aerial presence. Rovers responded by throwing on Marvin Emnes and Connor Mahoney coming on for Danny Graham and Craig Conway.
Mahoney`s first action was to cross for defender Darragh Lenihan – his shot from a more acute angle was saved well by Smithies before the resultant effort was hacked away. The sides continued to trade blows with Liam Feeney and Washington respectively having a go on goal – the game now on a knife-edge at Ewood Park.
A final change with 20 minutes remaining for Rovers, rather showing the importance of getting something from this fixture – Coyle threw on Hope Akpan for Gordon Greer. Akpan had scored against Rangers late on last season to secure a point for Blackburn, and on this occasion he powered an effort over the bar.
The action started to pick up in the last quarter of the match – Ravel Morrison was thrown on for Massimo Luongo in a genuine gamble from boss Ian Holloway. Gallagher and Mahoney were in the thick of things for the home side – the former putting a speculative drive into the stands.
Mahoney then struck wide from distance, but the space was afforded to the young player to chance his arm. James Perch stung the palms of the less-worked Steele in this half – the game continuing to hang in the balance in Lancashire.
Smith`s soft header and Lynch`s run and shot were all that Rangers could elicit in a nervy finale with three minutes of time on the fourth official`s board. Ultimately it would be the hosts that took all three points from this non-event of a fixture.
Substitute Emnes made space down the left-hand by-line and squared for SAM GALLAGHER to sweep home from close range. A gutting finale for the travelling support – but in truth the Rs peaked after five minutes and were not able to offer that level of consistency throughout.
BLACKBURN ROVERS: Steele, Nyambe, Greer (Akpan 70), Lenihan, Lowe, Feeney, Bennett, Mulgrew, Conway (Mahoney 65), Gallagher, Graham (Emnes 65).
Subs not used: Raya, Joao, Guthrie, Brown.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Smithies, Furlong (LuaLua 90+4), Onuoha, Perch, Lynch, Bidwell, Wszolek, Luongo (Morrison 78), Manning, Mackie (Smith 62), Washington,
Subs not used: Ingram, Freeman, Hall, Goss.
Referee: Mr T Harrington