Nick Powell’s early header allowed Stoke to return to winning ways against Blackburn on a wet, windy day in the Potteries.
With two 0-0 draws in the last two games, Stoke were desperate to show that they could contend with similarly placed teams without star man Tyrese Campbell, with the Potters unable to find the net in the 215 minutes of football since his injury. City were in indifferent form heading into the game, without a win in three, but with two clean sheets and two points to show for their efforts.
Micheal O’Neill still had a number of key first-teamers on the sidelines, with substitute goalkeeper Andy Lonergan the most recent casualty from the squad, as he battled a flu. The boss made just the singular change from the midweek draw at QPR, as Steven Fletcher replaced James McClean in the starting lineup.
Blackburn have also battled injuries recently, and this game came one too soon for diminutive midfielder Bradley Dack, as he continues his return from a lengthy layoff and is likely to make the matchday squad soon. Rovers also came into the game in indifferent form, with no wins in three before a vital 2-1 victory over Rotherham in the week. Manager Tony Mowbray needed star man Adam Armstrong to step up to the plate again, with the league’s second highest scorer grabbing just one goal in his last four. He made two changes from the last game, as Trybull and Holtby replaced Ayala and Buckley.
Stoke started with the initiative, with a few half chances in the opening minutes. The game was just six minutes old when the first real chance arrived, and with it came the first goal; it was the hosts to open the scoring. After a one-two with Ince, Morgan Fox displayed his crossing prowess and swung in an inch perfect delivery onto the head of Nick Powell, who dispatched to the keepers left leaving him with no chance.
It was a welcome lead after seven minutes for the Potters, and one that they would look to sit on, rather than extend. Powell would be delighted to return to the scoreboard, after netting just once in the last ten.
Blackburn began to grow into the game, and were dominating possession with 20 minutes gone. Their pressure nearly paid off as some shoddy Stoke defending left Douglas in acres of space on the left hand side of the box, with the left-back releasing a stinging drive and rattling Bursik’s left-hand post. The visitors were confident in possession, and looking to force their way back into the game.
Stoke were struggling to get a foot on the ball, and could consider themselves lucky to have not been punished after the half-hour mark as Rovers constantly continued to attack.
The visitors’ game plan was clear, as Armstrong and Gallagher continued to play off the shoulder of the City defenders. They had been well thwarted by City’s defence so far.
A rare counter for Stoke resulted in a corner after Powell had played in Tymon, with the midfielder’s shot blocked after it had looked a decent opportunity for the hosts.
With the half-time whistle blown, Michael O’Neill would be relieved that his side were still a goal to the good, as the Potters had been largely out battled and outplayed in the first period.
City would hope to build on their lead in the second half, whilst Rovers would want to continue their spells of possession and grab a goal as a result of their pressure.
Half Time: Stoke City 1-0 Blackburn Rovers
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) December 19, 2020
It was Blackburn with the first opening of the second period as Armstrong raced into the Stoke box, but Bursik was out of his goal quickly to stop the forward causing his team a problem.
As the game ticked past the hour mark, Rovers still looked the most likely, but City were standing firm as usual at the back.
Stoke began to gain somewhat of a foothold in the game with 20 minutes to go, and game began to open up as the rain and wind started to affect play in the Potteries. Blackburn were getting the full treatment of a wet and windy night in Stoke-on-Trent.
City were still holding firm as the game creeped into the last ten minutes, but needed to cut out naïve mistakes that were allowing the visitors chances to tie the scores.
With just three minutes left, Adam Armstrong wasted a valuable opportunity to equalise. He was found on the turn in Stoke’s box and afforded too much space by James Chester, but his snapshot sailed wide of Bursik’s left-hand post. It was a sign of the striker’s poor recent form, as he would likely have buried the chance at the start of the season.
Substitute Chapman summed up his teams end product failures, as his cross found the back of the OBI Stand instead of a Blackburn head in the box.
But this was Stoke, and things were never going to be easy. Panic ensued in the City box with three of the four minutes of added time played. It was cross after cross into Joe Bursik’s area, but the Potters stood firm and cleared the ball away each time.
Blackburn had time for one last corner, but their pressure was again to no avail, and the full time whistle came with the three points staying in Staffordshire.
Full Time: Stoke City 1-0 Blackburn Rovers
MOTM: Nick Powell
It was a huge result for The Potters at the bet365 Stadium, and one that on another day could have slipped out of their reach.
Blackburn dominated the ball in large periods, shown by their 69% possession, but were unable to find that finishing touch that they have certainly not lacked in many games this season.
Michael O’Neill will see that as testament to his brilliant backline, with his defence keeping their third clean sheet in as many games, and their 11th of the season.
💬 The boss has praised his side's efforts following today's win against @Rovers.
📺 Watch the full interview on YouTube.#SCFC 🔴⚪️
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) December 19, 2020
It was a game so typical of Stoke this season, with the Potters finding an early lead and able to sit back and soak up pressure brilliantly for the rest of the game.
It should not be understated just how many injuries Stoke have picked up recently, and so to be winning key games with numerous fringe players starting is a great bonus for the team.
Tony Mowbray will want more from his strikers in games to come, as Rovers will look at games like these as missed opportunities if they want to be in and around the top six this season.
The result pushes Stoke up one spot in seventh place, with a big Carabao Cup tie at home to Tottenham up next on Wednesday. Blackburn remain in 11th position, as they next take on Sheffield Wednesday at Ewood Park on Boxing Day.
Match report by Oliver Walton.