When reacquainting yourself with an opponent you have already beaten 5-2 less than a month ago, the temptation might be to assume that the afternoon in store is likely to feature entertainment filled, goal laden joy.
As the old corporate motto has it - never assume - it makes an ass out of u and me. These were definitely not two Carabao Cup line-ups and with three precious league points at stake, most seasoned Rovers fans were probably expecting a closer encounter than the one in September.
With Rovers shorn of the muscle of Gallagher, the guile of Moran and Ennis deemed not quite ready to start, the attack rather selects itself with a fluid front three of Dolan, Szmodics and Sigurdsson. Could they unpick the Bluebirds defence ?
For most of the first half, the answer bluntly appeared to be a resounding “no”.
Rovers approach play, whilst pleasing on the eye as the ball is worked upfield, repeatedly came adrift as and when the Cardiff penalty area loomed large. The final killer pass completion rate, at least to the naked eye (no Opta Stats subscription available to me I’m afraid), seemed to be zero, as Rovers, much like a veteran barber with old scissors, lacked any cutting edge.
The contrast in the current style, with that of say Sam Allardyce’s tenure is stark. I’d just made a similar observation as Cardiff crossed a corner and apparently took the lead following the basic premise of “get it in the mixer for the big bloke to nod in”. Elegant simplicity, but fortunately for Rovers the officials granted a welcome reprieve and disallowed the goal for interference of the keeper by a City player In an offside position.
The second half saw Rovers set about their task with more determination and Dolan especially seemed keen to increase his involvement. It was his beautifully weighted pass that opened up space for Rankin-Costello to burst through and score. A similar chance later on was spurned by JRC and following that, Cardiff proceeded to give Rovers fans the now customary edgy last 20 minutes as a single goal lead is defended stoutly at Ewood.
That Cardiff went home goalless is down to Leo Wahlstedt’s smart reflex deflection of a powerful shot and his celebration afterwards indicated his satisfaction with that contribution. It was to prove crucial.
Rovers looked well-balanced in midfield with the anchor Sondre Tronstad impressing many watchers with his all-round display. Adam Wharton was an unused substitute and JDT rightly seems wary of the dangers of over-working such a precocious young talent.
In his absence, Tronstad toughened up the midfield and balancing resilience and attacking intent is one of Tomasson’s main challenges. Plaudits also are due to Carter (my POTM) & Hyam at the back who were on it for 99% of the game and grateful for a linesman’s flag on the one occasion they were not.
Back to back wins lift Rovers now to 15th, but in this crazy division, just three points off those pesky, elusive play off spots.