First of all, apologies for this monthly review coming later than these articles usually do due to Christmas and other commitments with the page.
Rovers ended the final month of 2017 unbeaten as they collected eleven points from the fifteen available, and also progressed\ in the FA Cup, albeit at the second attempt. Let’s have a look at the results for December.
Rovers 3-3 Crewe Alexandra – FA Cup Second Round – 3rd December 2017.
Rovers started the month with a home tie at home to Crewe Alexandra in the FA Cup, a side struggling for consistency in League Two under the management of David Artell.
The tie couldn’t have started any better for the hosts as they raced into a 3-0 lead inside the first twenty minutes thanks to a Dominic Samuel brace & a Danny Graham strike.
The first talking point happened just after the half-hour mark when Rekeem Harper was sent off for a foul on Chris Porter inside the penalty area, and the Alex striker converted the resulting penalty to give his side a glimmer of hope.
A glimmer of hope turned to light at the end of the tunnel as Elliott Bennett was sent off on 56 minutes for a stamp on Perry Ng. The visitors capitalised on their two-man advantage with goals from ex-Rover Eddie Nolan & a second for Porter forced the tie into a replay after it finished all square.
Rovers can be proud of their efforts after being reduced to nine men for the final thirty-four minutes but, when you roar into a 3-0 lead the game should win the game by all accounts. The referee was poor and the sending off for Elliott Bennett, and hopefully, he won’t be back at Ewood anytime soon.
Peterborough United 2-3 Rovers – League One – 9th December 2017.
The first league game of the month saw Rovers make the long trip to London Road (renamed the ABAX Stadium for sponsorship reasons) to tackle fellow promotion hopefuls Peterborough United.
Rovers never got going in the first half aside from a bright opening spell in the first ten minutes and went into the break trailing 1-0 thanks to a header from former Newcastle United skipper Steven Taylor.
Whatever Tony Mowbray put in their drinks & told them at half-time certainly had the desired effect as Rovers turned the game on its head with three unanswered goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
The first saw skipper Charlie Mulgrew tap in from a corner (48). Four minutes later, it was 1-2 from a goal by Bradley Dack.
The third Rovers goal on 58 minutes was as good of a counter-attacking goal as you’re ever going to see. Craig Conway played the ball from the corner flag & found Dominic Samuel, who spun away from his marker to make an inch-perfect pass to Marcus Antonsson. The Swede played in Dack & the Rovers No.23 cooly finished a great team goal.
A Jack Marriott effort (90) was scant consolation for the Posh who saw their skipper Jack Baldwin sent off, which was the last action of the match as Rovers returned to East Lancashire with the three points.
For Rovers to bag the win at a place where teams will struggle to get anything shows how serious they are about getting out this division & back into the Championship. The result at London Road shows Rovers can go to a promotion rival & topple them in their own backyard.
Crewe Alexandra 0-1 Rovers – FA Cup Second Round Replay – 13th December 2017.
The third game in ten days saw Rovers make the trip to Cheshire to take on Crewe Alexandra in the FA Cup Second Round replay at Gresty Road, and a place in the third round awaited the winners.
Rovers started the game in dominant fashion & after missing a couple of early chances, they duly got their reward midway through the first half. A misplaced pass by George Cooper saw Derrick Williams retrieve possession & the full-back fed in Danny Graham & the Rovers No. 10 slotted home to give the visitors the lead on twenty-four minutes.
The visitors continued to create chances but couldn’t find the killer second goal & were almost made to pay on 62 minutes when a free header from Chris Dagnall bounced off the post.
Rovers had a chance to end the tie on 81 minutes when a cross from substitute Sam Hart saw Ben Garrett forced into a reaction save from his own defender & Joe Nuttall on the follow-up. Despite some late chances for the home side, Rovers saw the tie out & seal a place in the next round.
This was a game that Rovers could have won by quite a few goals despite riding their luck at times in the second half. I still feel frustrated we didn’t get the job done at Ewood but nonetheless a home tie Hull City awaits in the FA Cup third round, which is a winnable tie & a chance to cause an upset against higher league opponents.
Rovers 2-0 Charlton Athletic – League One – 16th December 2017.
League One football was back at Ewood Park as Rovers entertained Charlton Athletic, with both Rovers & the Addicks looking for the points to cement their place in the playoff spots.
The visitors created the first chance of the game inside the first minute but the shot from Josh Magennis hardly troubled David Raya in the Rovers goal.
Rovers then seized control & could have gone in front on 18 minutes but neither Bradley Dack or Dominic Samuel could convert Marcus Antonsson’s cross. Dack went even closer still but his shot just fizzed just wide.
On 30 minutes, the home side finally broke the deadlock as a Charlie Mulgrew corner was headed in by former Rover Leon Best. The irony is he never found the net in a 3-year spell on home soil whilst at Rovers but found the net in the red of Charlton for Rovers on his Ewood Park return.
Derrick Williams & Craig Conway both had chances to extend the lead but to no avail as Rovers led 1-0 at half-time. The Addicks came out fired up & forced Raya into a brilliant double save to deny both Ben Reeves and Best, but the linesman gave offside to spare Rovers’ blushes.
Jake Forster-Caskey was the next to test David Raya but the Rovers No.1 was equal to his effort. Leon Best headed over with 10 minutes to go but Rovers sealed the win in injury time. Substitute Joe Nuttall showed great determination to run at the Charlton defence & his cross was headed home by Danny Graham.
Not the best performance in the world but it was a very welcome 3 points considering how much we were outplayed for much of the second half. The celebration at the end with David Raya running the full length of the pitch showed just how much the win went to everyone. You can’t doubt the team spirit that Tony Mowbray has installed in the squad.
Northampton Town 1-1 Rovers – League One – 23rd December 2017.
Rovers made the trip to Sixfields to take on Northampton Town in a match where both sides were desperate for the points for different reasons, Rovers had the chance to move into the automatic promotion places while the Cobblers need the win to get out of the relegation zone.
After an even opening exchange, the home side stunned Rovers by taking the lead on 20 minutes as a corner from ex-Rovers loanee Matt Grimes was headed by Aaron Pierre, and Sam Foley put the rebound away.
John-Joe O’Toole could have extended the advantage but his header from a free kick went just wide. Bradley Dack had Rovers’ best chances but brilliant defending by former Preston North End man David Buchanan denied a certain goal before an audacious flick was well held by David Cornell.
The second half started with Northampton having the first effort on goal but David Raya was equal to it, Rovers responded a minute later when Bradley Dack smashed home the equalizer on 48 minutes to level matters.
Rovers then had two chances to win the game. First, Craig Conway rounded David Cornell but only found the side netting, Rovers were then awarded a penalty. Charlie Mulgrew (the regular penalty taker this season) had withdrawn just before kick-off so up stepped Marcus Antonsson – but the spot kick was saved & it finished all square.
A frustrating day to say the least as this was seen as a golden opportunity to break into the top two, it didn’t happen. A chance to make it seven straight wins since the Premier League title-winning season, it didn’t happen. Let’s hope this isn’t a game that will come back to bite us come the end of the season.
Rovers 2-0 Rochdale – League One – 26th December 2017.
Rovers hosted Rochdale on Boxing Day with the chance to complete a League double over Keith Hill’s side having won 3-0 at the Crown Oil Arena in September.
There was also a chance at redemption for Rovers after they suffered a penalty shootout defeat against Dale in the Checkatrade Trophy group stages.
Rovers had the first chance of the game on 12 minutes when a Ryan Nyambe cross was headed down by Danny Graham to Marcus Antonsson, but his shot went wide.
Rovers made the breakthrough on 35 minutes in fortunate circumstances as Bradley Dack had an effort saved by Josh Lillis but the ball bounced off Kgosi Ntlhe & into the net.
Seven minutes later, it was two as Elliott Bennett chased the ball down & was brought down by Lillis for a penalty, Charlie Mulgrew scored as a result for his ninth goal of the season to send the hosts into half-time 2-0 up.
Rochdale registered the first two efforts of the second half as Paul Downing was at full stretch to block an effort from Oliver Rathbone on 50 minutes before David Raya tipped over an Ian Henderson shot five minutes later.
The home side responded when Dack played in Derrick Williams but the Rovers full-back could only clip the top of the crossbar. A third goal was in the sights of the hosts but despite an overhead kick by Graham & a chance going wide from substitute Joe Nuttall the elusive goal just wouldn’t come.
The industry of Bradley Dack deserved a goal on 87 minutes as the Rovers No. 23 skipped past the entire Rochdale backline only to be denied by Josh Lillis – if it’d have gone in, they may as well have not carried on looking for the goal of the season, because that’d have been it.
Rovers saw the final minutes out to record a third successive home league win & make it a miserable return to Ewood Park for Dale boss Keith Hill.
Rovers were never really in any kind of danger of losing this match as Rochdale posed very little threat on the day & most of the 15,115 left with smiles on faces – Rovers; highest home attendance of the season in the league.
Rovers 2-2 Scunthorpe United – League One – 30th December 2017.
The final fixture of 2017 saw 3rd host 4th at Ewood Park as Rovers entertained in-form Scunthorpe United, managed by ex-Burnley man Graham Alexander.
The visitors made a positive start with some fast flowing football but without really testing David Raya, with Rovers first attack saw the first goal as Ryan Nyambe pick out Danny Graham & the striker tucked the chance away on 7 minutes.
The lead only lasted 4 minutes as Kevin Van Veen got on the end of a through ball & finished the chance, even though David Raya could have done better with his effort on goal.
Despite the equalizer, Rovers still created chances as a 25-yard strike from Elliott Bennett & a Derrick Williams effort both testing Matt Gilks in the Iron goal, but the keeper saved as it ended all square at the break.
It was a perfect start to the second half for Rovers as a clipped ball by Bradley Dack found Marcus Antonsson at the back post & the Swede headed across goal to Graham – who buried his second goal of the game to put Rovers 2-1 up on 47 minutes.
It should have been 3-1 on 53 minutes Bradley Dack couldn’t convert after a through ball from Elliott Bennett. Shortly after, the game was level again as a cross wasn’t dealt with by Bennett & Conor Townsend made it 2-2.
Both teams exchanged chances before Dack hit the post before shooting wide. Rovers had the final chance of the game but Dack’s free-kick was gathered by Gilks & the points were shared.
Much like the Fleetwood game, Rovers squandered a winning position after twice going ahead & then getting pegged back so quickly. Defensive frailties came back to haunt us & Rovers need to finish games off when they are in the ascendency.
Despite some frustrating results in December, Rovers record now stands at 17 games unbeaten (all competitions) going into 2018. Providing Rovers keep hold of their best players & add more quality in the January transfer window, then I see no reason why Rovers won’t be in the shake-up come May.
Until next month & a happy New Year in 2018.