Stoke’s winless run extended to six games as Blackburn grabbed a late point at Ewood Park in an entertaining affair between two playoff chasing sides.
Stoke came into the game having bolstered their squad with the addition of three new signings since their last outing in the Championship. Wingers Rabbi Matondo and Jack Clarke had joined on loan from Schalke and Tottenham respectively, with the Potters also bringing in a new left back on loan in the form of Rhys Norrington-Davies from Sheffield United.
After a disappointing 4-0 home loss in the FA Cup to Leicester City last time out, Michael O’Neill made six changes to his starting XI with two of the new recruits in from the start. Chester, Collins, Thompson, Norrington-Davies, Matondo and Powell all came in for Shawcross, Batth, Smith, Clucas, Vokes and James McClean, who had been suspended by the club on Thursday and put under investigation for an alleged breach of Covid-19 guidelines.
Blackburn had also been knocked out of the cup a week earlier, with the Lancashire side losing the battle of the Rovers as League 1 outfit Doncaster ran out 1-0 winners at Ewood Park.
Tony Mowbray reverted back to a stronger side for this league game, and made seven changes to his side. Pears, Buckley, Bell, Trybull, Downing, Dolan and Brereton all made way for Kaminski, Nyambe, Branthwaite, Douglas, Elliot, Armstrong and Rothwell to come in.
The return fixture had been played just under a month ago, with the Potters running out 1-0 winners at the bet365 Stadium. That had been Stoke’s only win in their previous nine games in all competitions, and they were desperate for another today.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 16, 2021
With the game underway, Stoke looked to set the precedent in the opening minutes by starting with a high press and not letting their hosts have too much time on the ball.
After just two minutes, the Potters had set a new record for the most minutes without conceding an away goal in the club’s history, with 541 being the landmark figure.
Matondo was getting on the ball with promise, but the Blackburn defence was staying firm with 20 minutes gone.
However, the winger could count his lucky stars that he had not made a mistake that led to his team being behind after 25 minutes. The Welshman lost the ball after a City corner, and the hosts were allowed to break with pace and intent.
Lewis Travis surged forward and played the ball through to the clinical Adam Armstrong, who dispatched through the legs of Bursik to open the scoring, or so he thought. His celebrations were cut short by the offside flag, and the score remained 0-0.
Replays showed the forward well onside, however, and Tony Mowbray was left steaming on the sidelines.
Not long after, Jacob Brown had looked to be in for Stoke, but a foul was given Blackburn’s way with the forward one-on-one with goalkeeper Kaminski.
The next big chance of the game produced the opening goal, and it was a vital one that went the way of the Potters. Stoke’s previous corners had produced very little, but this time Jordan Thompson’s inswinging delivery from the right side found the head of Nick Powell, who rose highest and powered the ball past Kaminski.
Despite the earlier wrongly disallowed goal, it was a deserved lead for the Potters with the rest of the chances falling for the away side in the first half. It was Powell’s second goal in two games against Rovers, after he had netted the winner in the reverse fixture just a month ago.
Just minutes later it was Thompson’s turn to have a go on goal, and his left footed shot rattled the right-hand post as Stoke looked to complete a quickfire double.
Then on the stroke of half-time it was Kaminski’s turn to save his team from added misery, as Powell met another Thompson corner from the left side and the Belgian keeper produced a fine save at the back post to keep Stoke only one goal to the good.
City were having a lot of the ball, and the half time whistle was blown on an eventful first half at Ewood Park after three added minutes.
Half Time: Blackburn Rovers 0-1 Stoke City
Stoke could count themselves lucky to have not been a goal down with Armstrong’s goal wrongly chalked off, but the Potters had taken the decision in their stride and could arguably count themselves unlucky to only be a goal up at the interval.
It had been the best half of football that Michael O’Neill’s side had produced in some time, with both new signings playing their part to add more quality and flair to the Potters forward play.
Tony Mowbray was understandably seething with the officials at half time, but he would know that his side needed to buck their ideas up if they were to get anything from the game.
It was to be a different second half, with Stoke looking to sit back on their lead as usual, and trying to catch the hosts on the counter instead of attacking with build-up play.
𝙃𝙚𝙖𝙙𝙨 𝙜𝙤 𝙪𝙥! 🎯
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 16, 2021
Blackburn made two changes at the break, with Johnson and Rothwell making way for Davenport and Gallagher.
Stoke began with the incentive yet again, but Brown was unable to make anything of his break in behind the Blackburn line, allowing Lenihan to clear the danger.
Powell and Gallagher both needed treatment after they had clattered the advertising boards behind the goal in tandem following a poor free kick by Thompson.
That was to be Powell’s last action of the game as he made way for debutant Jack Clarke, which meant all three new signings were now on the pitch for the Potters.
Blackburn’s first opening of the second period came after 65 minutes, and a dangerous cross had to be cleared away with Dack ready to pounce.
Rovers had started to grow into the game, and with 67 minutes gone it was Armstrong’s turn to test Bursik, but he wasted a good chance with a shot straight at the young keeper.
The hosts had their next big chance not long after, and got the leveller that Stoke had been threatening to gift to them. Nyambe’s cross fell to Harvey Elliott, and the winger was allowed to tap the ball across for John Buckley to fire home and tie the scores on 76 minutes.
Just three minutes later and things worsened for Stoke, as James Chester was giving his marching orders for taking Armstrong down with the forward through on goal. The game was now there to be won for the hosts, and it was a poor capitulation from the away side who were now set to be holding on for dear life with ten minutes to go.
The Potters stood firm up to the 90th minute, and then had to contend with five minutes added on at the end.
Dack had a brilliant opportunity to win the game with seconds to spare, but his shot was too tame and simple for Bursik.
That chance signalled the end of the game, and it was a point shared between both teams.
Full Time: Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Stoke City
MOTM: Nick Powell
Despite being close to succumbing to defeat at the end, Stoke will feel it is another chance missed to take a big three points back to Staffordshire.
The Potters could have wrapped the game up by 70 minutes, but sloppiness in defence gave Blackburn the confidence to take the game to their opponents, and they got the goal that eventually secured them a point.
Michael O’Neill will know that his side need to cut out these mistakes if they are to continue putting in good performances overall. He will be encouraged by bright starts from all of the new signings, especially Norrington-Davies who looked a breath of fresh air at left-back.
A pretty fair assessment from Michael O'Neill, I think. https://t.co/pkVP85yAMF
— Pete Smith (@PeteSmith1983) January 16, 2021
Tony Mowbray will argue that his team were hard done by the officials and that they also could have taken away all three points, but a lacklustre performance from his side for the majority of the game should mean he is content with the outcome.
The result means Stoke remain in eighth place with an away trip to Rotherham up next, whilst Blackburn stay 11th and next face the visit of high-flying Swansea City, with both games on Tuesday night.
Match report by Oliver Walton.