Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Aston Villa Six Things: late relief for The Villans

What a job Mogga has done at Ewood Park! –

Conor Hourihane’s injury-time free-kick meant an even game between Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa rightly ended in a 1-1 draw. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Blackburn’s set piece threat

Tony Mowbray’s side put in a very competitive first half performance, in which their chief threat came from dead ball scenarios. Axel Tuanzebe felt compelled to force a good save from his own keeper, Orjan Nyland, who was then relieved when two back-post Darragh Lenihan headers flew off-target. The two men providing these deliveries were centre-back Charlie Mulgrew and attacking midfielder Bradley Dack, so it would have been fitting had they combined for the opener when the latter’s header following a free-kick beat Nyland. Instead, the goal was dubiously ruled out for offside.

Imbalanced Villa

John McGinn enjoyed a positive first half for the visitors – he was unfortunate not to win a penalty after being clipped by Richie Smallwood in the box. McGinn, like right-winger Ahmed Elmohamady, is known for his crossing ability, Jack Grealish typically does his best creative work on the edge of the final third while Albert Adomah hugs the touchline. The problem here though was that not enough players had a willingness to utilize the technical ability others have by breaking into the box to support isolated debutant, Tammy Abraham.

Abrahams’ chances

That changed after the break. Steve Bruce’s side played with more conviction in the final third; not only did McGinn continue to look bright, Adomah began to threaten inside more and we also even saw Neil Taylor show more positivity than in the first half. The above meant more support for Abraham, who linked up nicely with Grealish. The striker forced a save from David Raya with a low shot following a breakaway, before glancing Elmohamady’s cross into the side-netting.

Mogga’s key switches

Mowbray introduced Ben Brereton, who offered good movement up top when he came on while fellow substitute Harrison Reed combined energy with a velvet touch. The biggest change the boss made though was to switch to three-at-the-back by introducing Derrick Williams. The former Villa youngster used the ball intelligently but crucially, his introduction gave extra attacking licence to left-back Amari’i Bell, who won a corner within seconds of the switch. Rovers then built pressure, which paid on 77 minutes when Danny Graham patiently dug out his shot which Dack prodded home. Unfortunately for Mowbray, yet another substitution would define the result…

Hourihane the hero

This blog has previously questioned Conor Hourihane’s ability to truly control games at this level. What cannot be questioned about the Irishman is his ability to come up with crucial goals that decide matches and that was in evidence again. The former Barnsley man came off the bench as soon as Dack’s goal went in and, when the silky-footed Grealish won a free-kick off Reed, the midfielder curled the ball inside the near-post. That equalizer was vital, not just for Villa, but for an already under pressure Steve Bruce, who has a mixed relationship with supporters and certainly needed that late reprieve.

Right result

Blackburn can take real heart from a performance in which they looked defensively sound, unlocked only by a great free-kick, and in spells posed a real threat going forward. Equally, Villa were good value for their point; a return which is not a disaster considering other results in the Championship. There is though huge pressure on them to mount a promotion challenge and a five game winless run simply must be ended against Rotherham on Tuesday night, while Blackburn continue to enjoy a seamless return to the second-tier.