BLACKBURN 0 TOWN 0
Town capped off a very productive period of three games in eight days with a hard-fought point at Blackburn Rovers.
In a game of ebbs and flows, they had to survive a penalty – a rare miss from former Town man Jordan Rhodes – and a heavy period of pressure in the second-half before finishing strongly, but in the end neither side could make the breakthrough, although both had chances.
Instead, Town had to be happy with seven points from a possible nine and a second clean sheet of the season for Alex Smithies, who made several good saves during the course of the 90 minutes.
Chris Powell switched his team’s shape for the third time in as many games after midfielder Jonathan Hogg was ruled out with a groin injury. Back into the side came six goal top scorer Nahki Wells, meaning a switch to an orthodox 4-4-2.
That matched Blackburn’s shape, who were playing the pacey Josh King up front alongside former Town favourite Jordan Rhodes. Often Gary Bowyer’s side knocked the ball into space for King to chase down and it often gained the hosts territory, if not a plethora of clear goal-scoring opportunities.
One such ball was cut out in routine fashion by the sliding Mark Hudson after quarter of an hour, but his ensuing reaction will have caused the Town fans behind Alex Smithies’ goal some concern – he immediately looked in agony. It looked like Murray Wallace would be called into early action off the bench, but after extensive treatment from physio James Haycock he returned with a heavily bandaged wrist.
Blackburn threated in the opening 25 minutes through two free-kicks conceded dangerously just around the Town box. First creative midfielder Tom Cairney curled harmlessly over the bar but Ben Marshall did better with the second; the ball bounced just in front of Smithies, but he recovered to dive bravely at the feet of the onrushing forwards and smother out the danger.
Town’s best chance – and probably the best of the half – came between those set-pieces. Harry Bunn’s touch released the overlapping Jack Robinson down the left and he cleverly side-stepped defender Grant Hanley’s slithering challenge before driving into the box. The loanee’s pull-back was perfect for Wells, but as he pulled the trigger a superb last-ditch block came in from home left back Markus Olsson to deflect the ball behind.
Despite the lack of quality delivery in the first-half, Town could never rest with Rhodes around. His only sight at goal came in the 34th minute, but his former teammate Joel Lynch – making his 250th career appearance on the afternoon – executed a block that rivalled Olsson’s.
Rovers had an early second-half chance, crafted after Cairney was afforded too much room in the centre of the park. He played it right to Marshall, who’s deep cross found King’s head, but his effort was inches over the bar.
A pivotal moment followed just after the hour. Robinson fouled Marshall near the left corner flag and when Marshall lifted the free-kick into the area, Holt’s hand diverted it away – leaving referee Nigel Miller no choice than to award a penalty.
Up stepped the ever-reliable Rhodes from 12 yards – but he put the ball wide of Smithies’ right-hand post!
Smithies and Hudson had to be alert moments later when Rhodes found space in the area to capitalise on a mix-up, but after Smithies saved with his legs, Hudson got back to deny King a clear chance to put the ball into the vacant net and Town’s ‘keeper recovered to pounce upon the ball.
Town were firmly under the cosh at that stage - Rovers had all the momentum. It took another smart save from Smithies to push away Williamson’s drive from 18 yards out before winger Conway stepped inside and drive the ball just wide of target.
The Terriers had a tired look about them, but Sean Scannell led an up-field charge with a superb driving run that led to two Town chances. First Holt gave the ball to Butterfield, whose left foot pile-driver from 20 yards arrowed just over, before Bunn tested Steele’s handling with another drive that he just dealt with.
Wells went even closer with eight minutes left after Bunn wriggled clear down the left, but somehow the Bermudian striker overran the ball and headed over awkwardly from very close range.
Town’s team (4-4-2):
Alex Smithies; Jack Robinson, Joel Lynch, Mark Hudson (c), Tommy Smith; Harry Bunn, Jacob Butterfield, Conor Coady, Sean Scannell; Grant Holt, Nahki Wells (Lee Peltier, 85)
Joe Murphy, Paul Dixon, Danny Ward, Jonathan Stead, Murray Wallace, Radoslaw Majewski
Grant Holt (11)