BLACKBURN ROVERS MATCH VERDICT: Derby hold is halted
IT had to happen at some point but it could not have happened at a worse time.
After 11 matches Rovers’ proud unbeaten run against Burnley is over after Ashley Barnes and Ross Wallace stepped off the bench to inspire a win for Sean Dyche’ side which looked highly unlikely with 17 minutes to play.
Gary Bowyer’s team, leading thanks to leading marksman Jordan Rhodes’ first goal in 10 games, looked comfortable if not in control until Wallace set up Clarets captain Jason Shackell to equalise.
Six minutes later Barnes followed suit as he teed up Danny Ings to score the goal that ended 35 years of hurt for Burnley and moved them a massive step closer to automatic promotion.
And that, more than losing an East Lancashire derby, is what will hurt Rovers supporters more than anything.
That their bitter rivals seem destined for a return to a Premier League while their side, now a galling 23 points behind in 10th, appear likely to spend another year in the Championship barring a storming end to the campaign.
And, given Rovers have been unable to win more than two matches in succession all season, it looks an uphill task.
After local Army cadets formed a guard of honour to welcome the two teams on to the pitch and mark the memory of the East Lancashire men who lost their lives in World War One, which broke out 100 years ago, battle commenced.
The game, however, was halted after just 50 seconds after a chicken was let on to pitch.
Once it got back under way Rovers, who are owned by poultry giants Venky’s, forced the first save of the match as Dunn crossed for Rhodes to flick a header toward goal that Tom Heaton gathered at the second attempt.
The much-changed hosts, fired-up by the occasion and by their 4-0 beating at Bolton Wanderers, enjoyed the better of a ferocious opening 10 minutes.
But they would have found themselves a goal down had it not been for one of the assistant referees, who ruled Sam Vokes’ close-range effort out for offside.
Burnley were causing early problems down their left flank and after Kieran Tripper’s deep cross evaded Adam Henley, Arfield’s header looped over Paul Robinson and on to the roof of the net.
Rovers responded with a chance of their own, which home debutant Luke Varney curled wide after a strong run from the fit-again David Dunn, before Ings failed to make the most of a good opening just inside the area after Tommy Spurr was caught in possession.
It proved a costly miss as four minutes later Rhodes broke the deadlock with a brilliant finish which shook Ewood Park to its foundations The striker, who had fired a sighter past the post moments earlier, expertly brought a Jason Lowe cross under his control, spun and angled a 15-yard shot back across Heaton and into the bottom corner.
It was Rhodes’ first goal since New Year’s Day, his 17th of another prolific season and his third in four games against the Clarets.
But Ings should have cancelled it out in the 40th minute.
After a brief lull in what otherwise had been an intoxicating half of football, Burnley’s top scorer was given a golden opportunity after he latched on to a horrible back pass from derby debutant Craig Conway.
But with just Robinson to beat Ings could only shoot straight at the former England number one before stabbing the rebound wide.
Ings was so nearly punished for the second time four minutes later when Varney pulled the ball back across the box for Lowe, whose clever effort with the outside of his right foot was heading in until it was cleared off the line by Ben Mee.
The Clarets, unchanged for the eighth match running, survived an even bigger scare in the 55th minute.
The inspirational Dunn took advantage of a poor pass from his former team-mate David Jones to play Rhodes through on goal.
For all the world it appeared the Scotland international would double his and Rovers’ tally. However his low right-footed strike came back off the post and bounced to safety.
It proved to be the turning point as Burnley, with Barnes and Wallace on for Michael Kightly and Vokes, restored parity in the 73rd minute.
Barnes won a free kick which fellow substitute Wallace sent over for Shackell to beat Robinson to the ball and head it into the empty net.
And worse was to follow for Rovers, who had taken the tiring Dunn off moments earlier.
Again Wallace and Barnes were involved, the former reacting quickest to his own blocked shot and the latter laying it on a plate for Ings to side-foot past Robinson from 12 yards to score his 25th and most important goal of the campaign.
Rovers boss Bowyer threw on Rudy Gestede in a bid to force an equaliser.
But it was Lowe who went closest to getting one when his swerving 25-yard drive was spectacularly tipped over by Heaton, who then held on to two strong headers from Gestede.
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