Reaction: Blackburn Rovers 5 Blues 2

Craig Gardner gave his reaction after Blues’ final day game away to Blackburn Rovers.

The Sky Bet Championship season was rounded off with a defeat in Lancashire.

However, the immediate focus post-match was on the absence of Head Coach Lee Bowyer, with the First Team Coach providing an update.

Speaking to the media after the clash at Ewood Park, Gardner said: "We got to the hotel yesterday and he had a phone call that he had to leave which under the circumstances are totally understandable. We are all behind him and wish him and his family well. Hopefully, everything will be okay."

Gardner went on to explain how the team and staff continued to carry out the game plan set out in the week building up to the fixture.

He said: “Once we got safe, we have had a plan. The plan was to give the players what they deserve, they have had great seasons with the Under-23s and Under-18s. We only think it is fair to give them the opportunity that they deserve. That creates that pathway from the Academy to the First Team, which I know Lee wants to do.

"The big step up for them is important and to play back-to-back games in the Championship is a real test. I think the young players and those who haven't had much game time coped with it well because they had a strong team out today and we matched them for most of the game."

One of those players was young Ryan Stirk, with Gardner delighted at how he has equipped himself when stepping into the First Team environment.

He told the press: "Stirk has been brilliant all season for the Under-23s. We go and watch their games and he has been the standout player, hence he gets his rewards. You can see he's a player, good on the ball, he's clever. 

"It's again about the big step up and he hasn't let himself down."

The Coach concluded his press duties in the North West by taking a positive look ahead to the next campaign, providing an outline of what is to come.

Gardner said: "Now we get six-seven weeks off, so it's good for the players to get away, rest their legs and then it will be a good old fashioned pre-season. It gives us a lot of time to get them fit and what Lee wants. I am sure they're exciting times.

"He gets us and the Club, what we want and the fans. He's played for the Club and gets the expectations. We need an identity and a platform to grow, and I think Lee gives us that. We can start getting excited, not too excited, but we will get excited as the fans are coming back. They are our 12th man."