Blues’ search for that elusive home win continues as they were put to the sword by play-off chasing Blackburn Rovers at St. Andrew’s.
The visitors scored four times without reply in a disastrous opening period for Lee Clark’s men. But in a scenario similar to other games this season, Blues improved after the interval and mounted a spirited comeback with goals from Nikola Zigic and Demarai Gray – the latter’s first in senior football. But, ultimately, the damage had already been done with Rudy Gestede’s treble for Rovers added to by Todd Kane’s lucky long-ranger.
Clark rang the changes from the side that lost at the City Ground on Saturday. Peter Lovenkrands and Brian Howard both came in for their first starts since early February and there were also recalls for Will Packwood and the loan pair of Federico Macheda and Tyler Blackett. The latter dropped into central defence to partner his Manchester United team-mate Tom Thorpe in the absence of skipper Paul Robinson through suspension.
Blues made a positive start to proceedings with Packwood latching onto Emyr Huws’ free-kick but the American’s header drifted over the visitors’ target. The hosts did get an early scare on six minutes when Josh King’s low cross landed at the feet of an unmarked Gestede just four yards out, but he leant back and sent his shot spiralling well over Darren Randolph’s crossbar.
Blues survived on that occasion but within four minutes the same two players linked up again to put Blackburn in front. King floated a delightful cross to the far post and Gestede rose highest to head past Randolph from close range.
The home side responded with a good passage of possession which ended with a clever chip from Packwood teeing up Paul Caddis inside the area but the Scot’s half-volley was well blocked by Grant Hanley. But it was to prove a brief respite from the action at the other end and two goals in the space of four minutes midway through the half left Blues with a mountain to climb.
Gestede was the man on the spot again on 20 minutes when he rose to head home in emphatic style Craig Conway’s free-kick from the right flank. And two became three for Rovers in fortuitous style when full-back Kane tried his luck from distance. The shot wouldn’t have had the sufficient power to trouble Randolph but it took a wicked deflection off Blackett to wrong foot the grounded Republic of Ireland international.
Clark opted to shuffle his pack on the half-hour mark when Howard made way for Zigic. The change sparked a gradual improvement and Blues came close to reducing the deficit on 39 minutes as stand-in captain Chris Burke’s low centre created a melee inside the area but unfortunately it ended with the ball cannoning off Macheda’s knee and out for a goal kick.
Randolph was called into action to beat away King’s fierce drive as Rovers went in search of a fourth goal before half-time. The Blues custodian came to his side’s rescue again in first-half injury-time as his fingertips turned over Conway’s stinging shot. But from the resultant corner the visitors did indeed increase their advantage as Gestede headed in to complete his hat-trick and cap a thoroughly miserable 45 minutes for the St. Andrew’s faithful.
Macheda had an opportunity to get the hosts an early second-half goal when Zigic’s quick throw-in set the Italian away on the left side of the area but his shot was blocked by the legs of Paul Robinson. At the opposite end Randolph also used his feet to deny Gestede and was then quick off his line to save smartly from Jordan Rhodes.
Blues grabbed a goal back on 63 minutes when Callum Reilly raced down the left wing and sent in a terrific cross to the far post where Zigic powered his header past Robinson. The big Serbian brought a good save from Robinson soon afterwards with a low shot that the Rovers keeper did well to turn around the post.
Macheda could have further reduced Rovers’ lead but his far post header didn’t have enough purchase and was easily claimed by Robinson as the game entered its final 15 minutes. Any hopes that Blues harboured of getting back into the match were dealt another blow when Huws was forced to leave the action with a head injury with Clark having already used all three allowed substitutes.
But ten man Blues weren’t going to give up the fight and reduced the deficit to two with six minutes left courtesy of teenager Demarai Gray. The young substitute picked up the ball just outside the area, cut inside and unleashed a shot which crept inside Robinson’s left-hand post.
The home side maintained the pressure during six minutes of injury-time but couldn’t break through a resolute Rovers defence again. The result leaves Blues hovering just one place above the relegation zone, on the same number of points as 22nd-placed Blackpool, in a tightly-contested bottom third of the table. Clark’s men must now regroup in time for Saturday’s home clash with Leeds United.