Blues twice came from behind to earn a battling draw against Blackburn Rovers at St. Andrew’s this evening.
The first-half had a distinctive end-of-season feel about it, Matt Gilgallon’s early header for the visitors separating the sides at the break after an uninspiring opening 45 minutes. But the second-half was a distinct contrast, Gary Rowett’s side peppering the opposition goal but Rovers equally creating a few dangerous moments of their own.
Jonathan Grounds headed the hosts level but then a defensive mix-up led to Jordan Rhodes putting Gary Bowyer’s charges back in front. But back came Blues again, Demarai Gray firing in his side’s second equaliser. And the home team could have clinched a late win but Grounds’ injury-time header was kept out by a great save from Simon Eastwood.
Diego Fabbrini, who impressed on his debut at the weekend, was into the action within two minutes, collecting a pass from Gray and firing in a shot from 20 yards that flew only narrowly over Eastwood’s crossbar. But after that early moment of promise it was the visitors that grabbed the initiative.
Jay Spearing tried his luck with a pot shot from 30 yards but the former Liverpool man’s effort was always rising and never looked like troubling Randolph. The same cannot be said of Craig Conway’s attempt 60 seconds later, the winger cutting inside dangerously to engineer a good opening but his fierce half-volley fizzed straight into the arms of the grateful Randolph.
The visitors’ early pressure told on eight minutes. A corner delivered in by Conway was met by Kilgallon, who had created himself some space inside the area, and the Rovers centre-back directed his header cleverly into the bottom left corner of the net from eight yards.
In the 13th minute the St. Andrew’s crowd broke into an enthusiastic minute’s applause in tribute to Logan Kehoe, the 13-year-old Blues Community Trust player who tragically lost his life at the weekend.
It served to inspire the home players into greater action. Rovers keeper Eastwood was called into serious action for the first time on 18 minutes when Robert Tesche did well to win the ball in the middle of the park and fed David Cotterill. The winger cut inside and tried an instinctive shot from 20 yards but it was easily claimed by the visitors’ custodian.
Fabbrini was doing his best to spark Blues into life. The Italian’s burst towards the box earned his side a free-kick as he was brought crashing to the ground. The set-piece was played quickly to Gray and the teenager lobbed a dangerous ball into the box that Donaldson met. Sadly the hosts’ top scorer was unable to get any direction on his header and Blackburn cleared the danger.
Blues were starting to put a little more pressure on the Rovers backline. Two promising free-kick positions came to nothing as Cotterill’s attempts drifted well over the target.
In the final minute of the half, the hosts’ best moment of the opening 45 minutes saw Fabbrini win the ball wide on the left before teeing up Stephen Gleeson. The Irishman unleashed a terrific drive that dipped and swerved, causing Eastwood considerable problems, the Rovers keeper just about managing to parry away the shot.
A wayward Ben Marshall free-kick that flew well over the crossbar was the only chance of note for either side during the opening ten minutes of the second period.
But on 57 minutes came a terrific opportunity for Blues. A mazy dribble from Gray on the edge of the area culminated in the teenager laying the ball delightfully into the path of the Donaldson. The striker ingeniously flicked his shot over the advancing Eastwood but the cheers of the fans behind that Tilton Road goal were silenced when Marshall raced back to hook the ball off the line when a goal looked certain.
Rowett’s men maintained their momentum and from a left-wing corner came within inches of scoring, Michael Morrison meeting Cotterill’s cross but the defender’s header veering narrowly wide.
But from another corner moment later Blues restored parity. This time the ball came from the right and Grounds timed his run to perfection, Eastwood not having a hope of keeping out his crashing 64th minute header.
Blues were level for just four minutes, though, as a backline calamity led to Rovers regaining the advantage. Randolph attempted to punch the ball away in the centre of his area but his clearance struck the back of Morrison and dropped to the feet of Rhodes who had the simple job of rolling his shot into an empty net.
The visitors could have increased their lead when Rovers sub Rudy Gestede was presented with a golden opportunity. The striker, who scored a hat-trick on his last visit to St. Andrew’s, this time couldn’t beat Randolph from a free header only eight yards out, the Blues keeper saving brilliantly with his legs. That wasn’t the end of the danger though as Conway followed up and his shot did beat Randolph but Paul Caddis was in the right place to clear the goal-bound effort.
It proved to be a pivotal moment as Blues went up the other end and equalised for a second time. After a trademark overlapping run and cross from Caddis, the ball reached Gray ten yards out to the left of goal. The winger took a touch before firing in a low shot that nestled nicely into the bottom corner.
Blues made an immediate double change, Fabbrini leaving the field to another good ovation to be replaced by Wes Thomas and Lloyd Dyer taking over from Cotterill on the wing.
Thomas almost made an immediate impact as he met Grounds’ cross but his effort was saved by Eastwood, although the referee had blown up for a push anyway. Tesche’s driven shot from 20 yards drifted well wide soon afterwards and that proved to be the German’s last contribution as he was replaced by David Davis.
Both teams had chances to steal victory in a crazy four minutes of injury-time. Firstly Marshall raced clear inside the area but Randolph pulled off another fantastic save with his legs, whilst Grounds made his aerial presence tell again inside the area, the defender’s goal-bound header frustratingly blocked on the line by Eastwood.
The first-half malaise had been quickly forgotten about as the home fans went away thoroughly entertained by the second 45 minutes and another heartening display from their side.