|Chorley||(0) 1 – 2 (0)||Rovers Reserves|
|Payne 71||Haley 73, Cooke (pen) 88|
|Referee: S. Lucas||Attendance: 452|
Blackburn Rovers’ second string rounded off their pre-season programme with a hard-fought victory over Chorley at the appropriately named Victory Park Stadium. In what proved to be the toughest of several encounters against non-league opposition, the Rovers fielded three trialists in Luke George and Sean Cooke, former members of the Crewe Alexandra Academy, and Valentin Gjokaj, a young Swiss defender who plays for the Under-18 side of FC Luzern.
The home side had a number of familiar faces in addition to Garry Flitcroft (manager) and Matt Jansen (coach) in the dugout. Former Rovers youngsters Steve Flitcroft and Steve Foster were both included in the Chorley squad alongside the vastly experienced Lee McEvilly, a Northern Ireland international who had spells with Accrington Stanley earlier in his career, and former Preston winger Simon Whaley, who was released by Burton Albion in March of this year.
In stark contrast to the opening pre-season game in the sunshine of Kendal, the Reserves ended their preparations on a rain-swept evening that was more reminiscent of November than of August.
The first half was a pretty even affair with both sides creating chances and both goalkeepers being called into the action on more than one occasion. Chris Dilo, Rovers’ young French ‘keeper, made a superb point-blank save from Chris Denham, while at the other end Robbie Cotton rounded off an excellent move with a shot that was well saved by Russ Saunders.
Chorley ought to have taken the lead around the half-hour mark when Dilo missed a cross and the ball struck the legs of McEvilly, who was clearly not expecting it to reach him, before the Rovers defence hurriedly cleared it.
A goalless first half was a fair reflection of the game as neither side had gained the upper hand.
Both sides made numerous changes at half-time, but the stalemate continued until the seventy-first minute when Shelton Payne found the back of the net with a well-taken free-kick from the left-hand side of the penalty area. He skilfully curled the ball around the defensive wall and beyond the reach of Dilo into the far corner of the net.
However, the lead proved to be short-lived and within a couple of minutes the Rovers were level. The Rovers broke down the right and Osayamen Osawe took the opportunity to shoot despite being some distance from goal. Dean Porter appeared to have the shot well covered, but to his horror he allowed the ball to squirm from his grasp and it slipped between his legs towards the line. Before the ‘keeper could recover, Curtis Haley was on hand to force the ball over the line.
Rovers came close to taking the lead shortly afterwards when Hugo Fernandez Molina’s powerfully struck shot hit the post and Zac Aley, who had forced the ‘keeper into a couple of fine saves, saw another effort beaten away. The Rovers ended the game strongly and grabbed the winner in the final minutes. Cooke drove into the area but appeared to slip under pressure from a Chorley defender. The ball found its way to Haley, but as he rifled his shot into the back of the net the referee blew for a penalty. Cooke stepped up to take the spot kick and calmly slotted the ball home. The Rovers then survived a late scare when Chorley hit the post in the final minute of injury time.
It proved to be another impressive display from the Ewood youngsters and Swiss trialist Valentin Gjokaj caught the eye with an impressive performance in the heart of defence. He looked good in the air and was very comfortable on the ball, rarely being hurried and using the ball intelligently. Cooke and George were not quite as impressive as they had been in Academy games, although Cooke came into the game rather more in the second half.
The Reserves start their league campaign on Tuesday with a trip to Carrow Road to face the second string of newly promoted Norwich City.
Russ Saunders (Dean Porter 46); Nick Meace, Andy Teague, Andy Russell, Tom Walker (Tom Williams 48); Simon Whaley (Steve Foster 63), Dale Whitham (Krishnan Patel 46), Steve Flitcroft (Jake Cass 46), Tom Ince (Shelton Payne 46); Chris Denham (Mark Houghton 46), Lee McEvilly (Adam Roscoe 46)
Manager: Garry Flitcroft
Christopher Dilo; Jackson Ramm (Raheem Hanley 46), Valentin Gjokaj, Matty Pearson (Anthony O’Connor 45), Adam Henley; Micah Evans (John O’Sullivan 46), Luke George (Osayamen Osawe 63 / Jamie Maclaren 80), Sean Cooke, Robbie Cotton (Hugo Fernandez Molina 46), Zac Aley; Nick Blackman (Curtis Haley 63)
Sub not used: Christian Brigg (gk)
Coach: Gary Bowyer
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