Blackburn Rovers 3 Blues 3 .. Match Report

By Richard Barker
Last updated : 22 November 2004

Despite falling behind early on, Blues went into half-time leading 3-1, only for an inept second half display to follow, and allow Blackburn to earn a draw.

With Muzzy Izzet suspended, Steve Bruce opted for the fit-again David Dunn in the withdrawn role behind a lone striker. The lone striker was also a change, with Clinton Morrison also returning from injury to come in for the ill Emile Heskey. Darren Anderton also replaced Stephen Clemence in midfield.

Blues started appallingly, and were behind after just 4 minutes. Blackburn had clearly spotted what everyone else knows - that Blues play a left winger at left-back. As such, the pacy Steven Reid looked to exploit Julian Gray's defensive weaknesses from the off, and it was the Irishman who set up the opening goal. He beat Gray to the ball, then crossed low, with Paul Dickov dummying the ball and allowing Matt Jansen to sweep the ball home.

It was a blow to Blues, who struggled to get a foothold in the game immediately, but did gradually begin to settle. Indeed, after 17 minutes, Blues were level through Anderton - who had scored the winner in Blues' last away game at Anfield. Jesper Gronkjaer did well on the right, and his low cross led to panic in the Rovers defence. Dunn managed to nick the ball away from a defender, and Anderton was on hand to finish from close range.

Blues now began to dominate proceedings and twice went close again - both times via Damien Johnson. Yes, Damien Johnson. Both efforts came from Blues corners, and both after they were cleared to Johnson on the edge of the area. His first well-struck drive was fumbled wide by Brad Friedel, whilst his second shot flew just over the bar.

It didn't take Blues much longer to take a deserved lead. Five minutes before half-time Mario Melchiot - who was superb throughout - broke down the right, and his low cross wasn't cleared properly, allowing Robbie Savage to illuminate his otherwise pretty poor display with a good finish.

Just as Blues fans were taking to the idea of going into the interval with a 2-1 lead, their team made it 3-1. Melchiot was again instrumental, going on a terrific run down the right-hand flank. Again the Dutchman crossed low, Morrison dummied the ball well, and Dunn was on hand to score from close range against the club he supported as a boy and, of course, played for.

At half-time, all the travelling fans were saying the same thing - something along the lines of this: 'We have to keep playing like that... we've played really well, played some good football, and if we carry on, we'll be fine... as long as we don't sit back and defend, we'll win this.' It was so blatant to everyone that Blues would be in trouble if they resorted to their usual tactics of dropping 20 yards deeper to defend a lead. If they kept going at Blackburn though, there were more goals in this.

Thankfully, Blues started the second half as they'd finished the first, by attacking. Unfortunately, this lasted for five minutes, before the likes of Savage, Johnson, etc started getting closer and closer to the defence, and the defence started getting closer and closer to Maik Taylor. After 57 minutes, the impressive Reid took advantage of Gray's torrid time at left-back again and struck to make it 3-2.

Then just five minutes after this, Rovers were level after a high ball over the top was latched onto by Dickov. The former Leicester striker bundled the ball past Taylor and Kenny Cunningham, and Paul Gallagher was on hand to knock the ball over the line to make sure.

Both sides had chances to win the game, but Blackburn probably had more. Reid and David Thompson both had fierce drives stopped by Taylor, before the Blues 'keeper did well to prevent Dickov scoring late on. For Blues, Savage hit the post with an acrobatic effort following good work by Gray who was playing further forward now, as Jamie Clapham had come on at left-back.

Not surprisingly, the side looked better balanced with Clapham at left-back and Gray in front of him - certainly it improved Gray's performance. Next week, Bruce HAS to pick Clapham at left-back, and give this whole idea of playing wingers there up. At least Stan Lazaridis does play there for Australia. Julian Gray will never be a left-back, and that was proven today.

If Blues play people in their proper positions, hopefully then they can settle down and reproduce some of the better football they played today. Clapham at left-back, Gray left-wing, Johnson or Gronkjear (I'd pick the latter, but can anyone envisage a Blues side without Johnson in?!) on the right, two of Savage, Anderton or Izzet in the middle, with two of Heskey, Morrison or Dunn further forward. Those should be the decisions to make for next week - not how can we accommodate this player and that player? I said it last week and I say it this week - pick players in their own positions.

As for surrendering the lead? Well, it was just down to bad management. We can't use the 'Left Back Crisis' excuse, as we had one sat on the bench. The 'Lack Of Fit Strikers' excuse is redundant, as the side scored three goals. There's no excuse at all. The fact is that the Blues side played different football in the second half from the first half - more negative football. This meant that they couldn't cope with the pressure, and Blackburn got something from the game. It's that simple.

Anyway, on a positive note, at least there were goals from Blues, and hopefully that will have got that monkey off our back, or whatever that expression is. Let's just hope that aspect of the game can be carried forward, and the other more important lessons have been learnt.

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