Blackburn Rovers’ losing streak stretched to a second game in pre-season after falling to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of against League Two Bradford City at the Utilita Energy Stadium in front of a 1,660 strong Bradford home crowd.
Despite the absence of numerous first-team personnel expected to feature prevalently throughout this upcoming season including Lewis Travis, Ben Brereton Diaz, Tyrhys Dolan and first-team manager Tony Mowbray, assistant Mark Venus named a strong starting eleven for the match in Yorkshire, containing the likes of captain Darragh Lenihan, marksman Adam Armstrong and new signing Harry Pickering.
The visitors started the brighter of the two sides, with Harry Chapman, who operated on the right of a front three, combining well with Ryan Nyambe down the Rovers right in the game’s opening exchanges. Both Nyambe, and his full-back partner in former Crewe Alexandra man Harry Pickering, were able to dictate play in the opening minutes, with a brilliant ball from the latter finding Dan Butterworth in space, but the young forward was unable to work Bradford shot-stopper Richard O’Donnell.
Nine minutes in, Blackburn nearly muted the Bantams crowd, a stunning effort from Adam Armstrong flashing just wide after he teed himself up to shoot, showing his talismanic ability in microcosm as alarm bells rang amongst the Bradford backline. Blackburn once again pressed, as shouts for a Rovers spot-kick were waved away by referee Andy Haines after Harry Chapman went down in the penalty area.
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It took seventeen minutes for Rovers to be called into action at the other end, as an effort from Bradford midfielder Levi Sutton was repelled by Thomas Kaminski. This sparked the Bantams into action, whose first spell of pressure of the afternoon accrued a penalty after Daniel Ayala was adjudged to have fouled Alex Gilliead. Lee Angol tucked away the resulting spot kick, giving the hosts the lead against the run of play, to the delight of the home fans who visited Valley Parade.
Buoyed by grabbing the opener, the home side looked to push on in front of their home faithful, nearly doubling their advantage when Callum Cooke’s cross found Andy Cook, who was unable to direct his headed effort on target.
Frustratingly from a Rovers point of view, Bradford continued to probe in their search for a second, threatening the Blackburn defence as Oscar Threlkeld leapt above Harry Pickering after arriving inside the penalty area, but alas could not test Kaminski. Despite a flurry of half-chances to close out the opening forty-five minutes, Blackburn could not breach the Bantams defences and went into the halftime interval a goal down.
Both captains were withdrawn at the break, as Rovers replaced Darragh Lenihan with Hayden Carter, while the hosts swapped goalkeepers, taking off Richard O’Donnell for Sam Hornby. Contrary to the first half, the hosts had the better of the second half’s opening minutes, as the visiting fans grew louder in appreciation. Bradford responded to the increased volume in the stands by adding a second, as some poetic interplay between Callum Cooke and Andy Cook eventually ending up with Bradford’s number eight who lashed the ball into the roof of Thomas Kaminski’s net, much to the chagrin of all affiliated with the team in blue-and-white.
Despite trailing by two, Rovers rolled the dice, experimenting with some of the potential stars of the future as Jake Garrett, Connor McBride and Jack Vale came into the fold. McBride nearly made an instant impact, making a wonderful darting run which fellow substitute Jack Vale could not find. Zak Gilsenan, Tyler Magloire, Louie Annesley, Joe Nolan, Lenni Cirino, Antonis Stergiakis and Charlie Weston were also all introduced late on, as the visitors ended the game with a much less experienced side to the one that started it, as interim manager Mark Venus looked to blood a multitude of starlets into the fray.
In what turned out to be a disappointing day for Rovers, Zak Gilsenan offered late hope, with a mesmerising 40-yard run that saw him fly past opponents with ease, before delivering a low delivery into the area that no Rover was able to meet. Jack Vale also showed signs, taking the ball from one end of the pitch to the other before drawing a foul, in a display that offers glimpses of what is to come from the Welsh youth international.
Overall, it was another story of same old Rovers in the end, who despite going in warm favourites into a game against League Two opposition, flattered to deceive, despite the result of the game meaning very little in the context of Blackburn’s season. In the midst of a pre-season that has offered little for Rovers fans to shout about, the return of fans to Ewood Park for a fixture against Premier League opposition in Leeds United on Wednesday night for a 7:45pm kickoff may offer a little sliver of respite, but after two straight friendly defeats and no signings yet in the door, one wonders as to how long that respite may last.
Rovers: Kaminski (Stergiakis 75′), Nyambe (Magloire 75′), Lenihan (c) (Carter 46′), Ayala (Annesley 75′), Pickering (Cirino 75′), Davenport (Garrett 62′), Buckley (Nolan 75′), Rothwell (Weston 75′), Chapman (Gilsenan 75′), Butterworth (McBride 62′), Armstrong (Vale 62′).
Subs not used: Eastham