A Wednesday night, back at home. Either I need to be taken away from writing these, or the name needs to be changed from “500 words”...
After dropping 2 spots in the table with the weekend's loss, we look to get back to winning form against Reading. Rovers are already looking forward to this weekend's FA Cup fixture which could finally see us playing at the new Wembley, but first we have Reading, who have lost 3 in a row and are looking for points of their own.
After his late appearance and goal on Friday, Ben Brereton-Diaz is back in the starting line-up in place of Tyrhys Dolan, whilst John Buckley is out for the remainder of the season and was replaced by Tyler Morton. Reading came out strong, nearly scoring in the first minute, but their resulting corner led to a 3-on-1 going the opposite way. It seemed in doubt when Sorba Thomas' pass didn't quite make it to Sammie Smozdics, but Brereton-Diaz took it calmly on his chest and put it in the bottom corner from outside the box.
He's been hit or miss this season, but when he's on form, he sure can be brilliant. Spurred on by a roaring crowd the first ten minutes were all Rovers, as Reading seemed shaky and we continually kept on the pressure. Poor clearances by Reading and intercepted passes by Blackburn meant we were in control much of the time. Receiving criticism from fans recently, Morton did his best to show why he wants a place in the starting lineup, physically covering and challenging all over the middle of the park.
I'm personally a big fan of Sam Gallagher and Szmodics, as they aren't always the most brilliant players, but they hustle their asses off. The one player who constantly gets praise from fans and commentators is Dominic Hyam, but I apologize for never mentioning him, as watching on a small TV I can never see enough of him to understand the praise. [He's well worth it - Ed]
Whilst Rovers had the most life and chances, and put crosses right through the six yard box, neither keeper was tested for the next half an hour after the 2nd minute goal. A short corner by Thomas led to a header over the bar by Gallagher, as we kept sustained pressure, helped by Thomas playing along both sidelines. Szmodics charged in to a clearance by the Reading keeper, blocking the ball and sending it into the post, inches from a second goal before the half, showing off his hustle.
The better of the play and chances went the Rovers way in the first half, but we couldn't capitalize on our strong start. Aynsley Pears' two saves came from balls that were played right at him, even though one swerved in the wind and ended up being a brilliant save to keep the sheet clean. Reading were fortunate to not enter the half down by 3 goals, as we just couldn't put any more in.
There was an added incentive going into the second half, as all the teams around us in the table were also leading their matches. We came out as strongly as we finished the first half. The first 10 minutes the name most on the commentators' lips was Morton as he continually had the ball and served it up. The closest chance came from Brereton-Diaz, who took the ball off his chest, nearly identically to his goal, but couldn't put it in. It appeared he took a knock and was moving slower, but it didn't hamper him for long as he was right back in the mix, but was subbed off soon after.
Keeping them in the game, the Reading keeper made two stops in a span of seconds in the 63rd minute, with a follow-up by Reading having a jumping tip by Pears to keep the ball out of our net. It didn't last for long as Reading capitalized on our failure to put the game away, slotting it in past a diving Pears.
Rovers should already have had the 3 points, but instead Ewood Park was silenced. Thankfully, the players didn't deflate after the goal, and kept up the pace and pressure that had them mostly controlling the bulk of the game. Although the second half was more a wide open affair, it was still the home side that was mostly in control. Reading did their best to waste seemingly 5 minutes on a cramp and substitutions to kill our momentum, but we were firmly in command.
Our biggest issue was trying to take one too many touches and losing the ball, but the substitute Hedges took his without that extra touch to put us back where we belonged.
It was a testy end, as Gallagher brought down Mamadou Loum, and they then confronted each other. It's understandable why Rovers wanted a red card for a head butt, but Reading fans will probably think it was a bit harsh. It was nice to see the players shake hands as Loum left the field and there was no hard feelings after his ejection.
In usual Rovers fashion though, we had to make it more nervy than need be. You wouldn't have known they were outplayed and down a man, as the end of the game and into stoppage time Reading had me pacing my room due to how we had to give them so many chances.
The game should have been over long before it was, but the scoreline reflected the better team on the night. Rovers need to improve their finishing, as we should have put far more away than we did, but the 3 points are all that matters.