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[Archived] News Article -> 2011/12 Match Report: Stoke City 3 Rovers 1

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Stoke City (1) 3 – 1 (0) Blackburn Rovers
Delap 28, Whelan 58,
Crouch 72
Rochina 86
Referee: M. Halsey Attendance: 26,686

For the third successive away match the Rovers conceded three goals, but unlike the last two away encounters, there was to be no last-minute drama at the Britannia Stadium. Indeed, long before the end the Rovers looked a well-beaten team. As supporters arrived back in Blackburn, they were greeted with the news that Wigan had won and the Rovers had dropped to the bottom of the league. Somehow, Steve Kean's assurances that there is no way the Rovers will be relegated seem increasingly hollow with each passing match — almost as hollow as his plans for european football at Ewood Park.

A trip to the Britannia Stadium was always going to be a tough assignment and the blustery conditions were hardly conducive to good football. Once again, the Rovers were hampered by the loss of Chris Samba, but Jason Lowe returned for the injured Michel Salgado while Mauro Formica was recalled to replace the suspended David Dunn.

Neither side looked comfortable in the tricky conditions that the wind created and the opening period was scrappy to say the least. Having lost their previous four league games, the home side looked every bit as edgy as the Rovers and the result was a nervy opening in which both sides resorted to long, hopeful balls played to nobody in particular. However, Stoke gradually began to play to their strengths, which involved two wingers — Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington — hugging the touchline and tricking their way to the goalline before whipping in a cross. Etherington, in particular, looked dangerous whenever he had the ball and was able to deliver a decent cross despite the attentions of a defender or two. However, in truth, it was the long throws of Rory Delap and Morten Gamst Pedersen that posed the greatest threat to the defences.

It came as no surprise that the deadlock was finally broken by a set-piece on twenty-eight minutes. Steven Nzonzi lost possession and then rashly gave away a free-kick when trying to win the ball back. Pennant whipped the ball into a crowded penalty area and Delap managed to get in front of Gael Givet to steer his header past Paul Robinson.

The cries of "Kean Out" intensified after the goal as the long-suffering travelling support gave vent to their feelings in the face of another disappointing display. The fact that the Rovers failed to muster a shot at the Stoke goal until the forty-fifth minute — and that proved a rather tame effort from Ruben Rochina — summed up a lacklustre first-half display in which, in fairness, the home side proved only marginally better than the Rovers.

The Rovers began the second half in lively fashion with Rochina weaving his way past a number of defenders as he cut into the Stoke penalty area. When it looked like he had wandered up a blind alley, however, he produced a sensational backheeled pass that landed at the feet of Formica, who was about two yards out. With the goal gaping in front of him, the Argentine took a swing at the ball but somehow managed to miss it completely with the result that the ball went behind him and was eventually cleared. It was a terrible miss and seemed to sum up the woes which surround the club at the present time — comic and embarrassing all at the same time.

Undeterred, the Rovers continued to press but once again were found lacking in front of goal. A cross from Junior Hoilett was met by Rochina, but his first-time shot flew well wide when he really ought to have done better. However, the home side might well have stretched their lead on 54 minutes when Robert Huth headed wide when he really ought to have found the back of the net.

The Rovers' inability to stem the flow of crosses from the home wingers ultimately told in the fifty-eighth minute when Stoke doubled their lead. Peter Crouch started the move in his own half and found Etherington lurking just inside the Rovers' half. The former West Ham man set off down the wing and with Givet in attendance he managed to pull the ball back to Jonathan Walters on the edge of the Rovers' area. The former Ewood Academy man quickly laid the ball into the path of the oncoming Glenn Whelan who fired a shot goalwards. The ball then struck Grant Hanley and Scott Dann before finding the back of the net with Robinson unable to make the necessary adjustments to his positioning following the twin deflections.

Stoke replaced Pennant with Dean Whitehead on 71 minutes, but any hopes of a fightback by the Rovers were extinguished in the next minute when a long punt forward was missed by Hanley, and Crouch was on hand to pounce and coolly slot the ball past Robinson. It was the simplest of goals and yet another horror show from a defence which continues to be punished for making basic errors.

The Rovers pulled a goal back after 86 minutes following good work by Hoilett and Nzonzi which enabled Rochina to fire home. The former Barcelona youngster might well have had a second goal just as few moments later, but unfortunately his curled effort was pushed around the post by Sorensen. However, in truth it was all rather too little too late and the Rovers had looked a beaten side long before the end.

In defence, Robinson could do little about any of the goals and was, for the most part, largely untroubled by a Stoke side that failed to create many clear-cut chances.

Jason Lowe enjoyed a decent return to the side even if he struggled to keep Etherington quiet at times. The former West Ham man was a constant threat and his ability to cross the ball from all angles despite the close attentions of a defender is a major asset to the home side. How the Rovers could do with a genuine winger who can hug the touchline, cross accurately, and track back to cover their full-back when needed.

Gael Givet managed to keep Pennant relatively quiet to such an extent that Tony Pulis withdrew the former Liverpool winger long before the end. However, there is no doubt that Givet looks so much better when playing in the centre of defence rather than at full-back.

In the middle both Scott Dann and Grant Hanley again failed to dominate as one would like. The third goal was a simple long ball which ought to have been dealt with by one of the centre-backs and wasn't.

In midfield and attack the Rovers failed to make much impression. Yakubu worked hard up front, but his lack of pace makes it difficult for him to have much of an impact without excellent service and today the service was mediocre at best. However, when he did get the ball, he held it up well and won his fair share of free-kicks and again demonstrated that he remains our most potent threat as an out-and-out striker.

Mauro Formica was given the role of playing in the hole behind Yakubu and seemed to disappear into it for large parts of the game. He was totally invisible at times and on the one occasion when he was in the right position he completely fluffed his chance and no doubt wished that he could remain invisible.

Ruben Rochina and Junior Hoilett again occupied the wide positions with mixed results. Both look a threat but both disappear out of the game for long periods. Rochina scored an excellent goal and might well have added a second but for some excellent goalkeeping. However, there were times when he drifted to the fringes of the game and one suspects that he needs to play in the position which Formica filled today. Unfortunately, that is probably the best position for Hoilett, who once again had a disappointing game by his standards.

The question of how to accommodate Rochina, Hoilett and Formica in the same starting eleven remains unanswered. All three have undoubted talent, but all three seem happiest in the same position – supporting the front runner. Furthermore, having all three in midfield seems to put an intolerable strain on the two holding players, while the back four seem to be increasingly exposed to opposition midfield runners. At the moment, the selection of these three merely underlines how much we miss Phil Jones and Jermaine Jones sitting in front of the back four.

Morten Gamst Pedersen and Steven Nzonzi played as the holding players in midfield and although both worked hard, they were not as impressive as they have been in recent weeks.

Jason Roberts was given a brief outing as sub before racing off to what appears to be his main job of co-presenting 606 on Radio 5 Live. However, in fairness to Roberts, the game had got away from the Rovers by the time he was introduced.

I would also like to end with a word of praise for the much-maligned Mark Halsey. He may not get every decision right and whilst his style of refereeing may not suit everybody, I find it refreshing to find a referee who is prepared to let the game flow and one who doesn't brandish yellow cards at the drop of a hat.

Results elsewhere ensured that the Rovers dropped to the bottom of the table with a record that boasts the fewest wins achieved by any club and the worst goal difference. What a perfect backdrop to answer Venky's plea to judge them at the end of twelve months. I suspect the majority of fans are only too happy to give their verdict — guilty as charged of being derelict in their duties in charge of a football club.

Nonetheless, taking a Steve Kean view of the world, the fact remains that survival is still a possibility if results are turned around quickly. The next four League matches, three of which are at Ewood, are all very winnable. Indeed, one might say that a return of eight points is essential if the club are to survive with Christmas visits to Anfield and Old Trafford on the horizon.

With 25 games remaining, the fact remains that the Rovers are still 33 points short of the magical 40 mark and the number of games in which points could realistically be expected to be gained is growing ever fewer. One suspects that the next four games will go some way to defining our season and the long-term future of Steve Kean and Venky's at Ewood Park.


Stoke City

Thomas Sorensen; Andy Wilkinson, Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson; Jermaine Pennant (Dean Whitehead 71), Rory Delap, Glenn Whelan, Matthew Etherington; Peter Crouch (Kenwyne Jones 83), Jonathan Walters
Subs: Asmir Begovic (gk), Danny Higginbotham, Matthew Upson, Ricardo Fuller, Cameron Jerome
Manager: Tony Pulis

Blackburn Rovers

Paul Robinson; Jason Lowe, Grant Hanley, Scott Dann, Gael Givet; Ruben Rochina, Steven Nzonzi, Morten Gamst Pedersen, David "Junior" Hoilett; Mauro Formica (Jason Roberts 68), Yakubu
Subs: Mark Bunn (gk), Adam Henley, Radosav Petrovic, Simon Vukcevic, David Goodwillie, Nick Blackman
Manager: Steve Kean


Stoke City – None

Blackburn Rovers – None

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