Verdict: Relegation worries eased with much-needed victory over Derby

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Glenn Entwistle gives his verdict as Rovers beat Derby County at Ewood Park…

For a long time, it looked like a case of déjà vu for Rovers – starting the game brightly before conceding and then spending the rest of the game frustrated, but on the occasion, it was Derby County who provided the error that Rovers were able to capitalise on to claim all three points.

Rovers started the game brightly and looked to get in the face of a Derby side with just one win in 11, getting the ball forward early in the opening rounds but it wasn’t long until Derby figured out how to nullify the aerial threat of five-foot-five Adam Armstrong.

Rovers’ first real chance of the first half saw Armstrong’s freekick saved by David Marshall, and less than three minutes later, the Rams had gone up the other end of the field and opened the scoring.

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It was too easy for Rams’ Patrick Roberts who found himself completely unmarked six yards from goal and duly headed home – Harwood-Bellis having been dragged out of position to close down the cross from Graham Shinnie, leaving a Roberts-shaped gap in the middle of the box. 

Derby came close again in the 35th minute as they worked it in to the 18 yard box far too easily only for Roberts to fire wide from around the penalty spot.

After starting so brightly, Rovers had become second best after the Derby opener and were struggling to impose their will on the game, with Elliott, Travis and Holtby largely ineffective. 

It looked as though this was going to be another case of conceding first and then being frustrated for the rest of the game – until Ryan Nyambe chased down what to most full backs would be a lost cause, able to stop the ball on the line and force a corner. 

As much as Rovers’ final ball had let them down throughout the half, the resulting corner from Douglas was inch perfect, with Gallagher dropping off his man on zonal marking duties to head into the far post of the Rams goal. 

Rovers perhaps didn’t deserve to be level having not created anything since the Derby opener, and they had Kaminski to thank for keeping the score level at half time with a smart save down to his left to tip around the post from Sibley in the final minute of normal time in the first half.

The second half started with Derby on the front foot and the Rovers midfield struggling to get close to their opponents, with the Rams dominating the middle of the pitch. However, Rovers grew in to the game and where unlucky not to be in front as Armstrong spurned four chances early on – it looked like only being a matter of time before Rovers paid for the misses.

For once though, it wasn’t Rovers who committed the error that led to the winning goal – with Andre Wisdom pressured on the ball by Sam Gallagher on 66 minutes, with the ball falling to Armstrong who played in Elliott, who took his time, composed himself, and then fired home. Marshall in the Derby goal will be disappointed as the shot was straight at him, but the power in the shot was enough to take the ball in to the top corner after his parry.

With Derby placed precariously close to the drop, especially with Rotherham’s games in hand, the game took the form of a boxing match with Derby pushing for an equaliser and Rovers counterpunching with pace on the break. 

Thomas Kaminski proved his value once again with numerous saves, the first a great save from a Tom Lawrence freekick which swerved in the air with the Belgian able to shift his feet and react to palm the ball wide, with the rebound hitting the post.

Further saves came from efforts from former Rover Colin Kazim-Richards with a header from close range which Kaminski got down quickly to stop, and then a late corner which was heading directly for goal before he smartly dropped back and punched away.

Armstrong looked to have almost sealed the game on 87 minutes when he broke clear and was bundled over by the last man – it would have been a straight red but the referee didn’t see enough to award the foul, and on second glances it would have been very soft.

It was looking like it could be a familiar story with Rovers squandering so many attacks and chances to put the game to bed, and Derby pushing for an equaliser, surely, they couldn’t be sucker-punched again?

As Derby threatened late one, with the final attack of the game Ryan Nyambe looked to have brought Festy Ebosele down in the box, but referee waved away claims, before the cross was finally made to Kazim-Richards who headed in to the grateful hand of Kaminski. On second views, Nyambe will think himself lucky that Rovers escaped with all 3 points.

The win puts Rovers on 50 points, 11 ahead of third from bottom Rotherham, and that should be enough to stay up – a sentence I never thought I would be writing at the end of January. Derby, on the other hand, find themselves very much in trouble as they hover above the drop zone in 21st place. It is difficult to see why they are in this position though as they showed quality at times with the drive of Lawrence and Roberts, and Kazim-Richards showed he still has the quality he showed in his short time at Ewood. At the end of the day though, it was the mistakes at the back which cost Derby – the blunder from Wisdom which led to the Elliott goal just one of a number of occasions the Rams were caught on the ball, Rovers just weren’t able to make them pay the price and prevent a nervy end to the game.

As for Rovers – had it not been for the mistakes it could have been the usual frustrating affair, huffing and puffing without an end product. On this occasion, Rovers got the break and that little bit of luck and that forced Derby to come out and leave gaps which we should have exploited better.

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In many ways, the game was our season in a microcosm – we started brightly before conceding and becoming second best, and then failing to take our chances in the second half.

There is every chance all the members of the back four tonight won’t be at the club next season, but had Rovers had Harwood-Bellis on loan and available for the full season, I honestly think we would still be playing for something at the right end of the table. Mowbray should be chewing Pep’s ear already to get him back for next season. Numerous times he was the man to get in the way of the shot and he has looked solid at the back for Rovers, even when making up half of a very inexperienced partnership tonight. Branthwaite provided what has become a token mistake late on, but that man Harwood-Bellis was there to clean up the danger.

It was a toss up for me who got the man of the match award between Harwood-Bellis and Kaminski, but the Belgian just edged it for me, making crucial saves to ensure Rovers took all 3 points. A notable mention also for Joe Rothwell who had a positive impact on the game after arriving from the bench, benefitting from the space allowed as Derby chased the game, but looking like the Rothwell we all want to see.

The fact this is Rovers first win at home since the 30th January highlights where the season has fallen apart. The question stills hang over Rovers as to whether Mowbray is still the man to take the club forwards and whether he will be given that chance, but tonight at least he looks to have ensured who ever is in the dug out come August, will be in a Championship dugout. I can’t say the same for Derby – they look bang in trouble still, somehow.

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