As reunions go, this wouldn’t have been what Tony Mowbray was hoping for.
The former Blackburn boss’s return to Ewood Park ended with a 2-0 defeat, a burning sense of injustice at Craig Pawson and his assistants, and another missed opportunity to cement ourselves in a position of real promise.
Selection-wise, Corry Evans’ return was the only change to the starting eleven who had lined up against Wigan, with Lynden Gooch absent, and after an impressive second-half contribution against the Latics, Amad Diallo settled for a place on the bench, with Trai Hume also among the substitutes.
Roared on by the vocal backing of more than 3,000 red and white-clad supporters in the Darwen End, the first real chance came our way barely two minutes in, as we tried to make a fast start and take the game to the home team.
After some neat midfield interplay, a driving run from Dennis Cirkin got him into a promising position but didn’t bring the reward, as he scuffed his shot wide of Thomas Kaminski’s post. Nevertheless, we’d found a promising rhythm; the likes of Alex Pritchard and Jack Clarke were buzzing around, and our intent to play was clear.
At the other end, Ben Brereton Diaz found some space to tee up Callum Brittain, but his cross was collected by Anthony Patterson, and shortly afterwards, an ambitious effort from the Chilean went sailing over Patterson’s crossbar.
As the half wore on, another chance came and went as Blackburn turned the ball over cheaply inside their own half, but Pritchard’s curling shot was off target. The ex-Norwich playmaker cut a frustrated figure for much of the game, and seemed to be trying slightly too hard to contribute with a goal.
Unfortunately, when the breakthrough game, it was for Blackburn.
Clarke appeared to be felled in the box, but his penalty claims were waved away, and the home side duly broke before the ball fell to Diaz, who curled a sumptuous shot beyond the dive of Patterson. It was a real blow after we’d more than held our own, but the quality of the strike was undeniable.
Minutes later, the Chilean almost doubled his tally, but was denied by a clearance from Luke O’Nien. Sunderland did respond in kind, as a header from Clarke was gathered by Kaminski, and a whipped free kick from Pritchard was tipped away by the Blackburn goalkeeper.
As the halftime whistle blew, all eyes were on Craig Pawson, and a call that, by consensus, he got wrong. Once again, the spotlight is sure to fall on the officials, and whether they’re up to the job, but decisions like the one he made certainly don’t help their cause.
As the second half began, Sunderland had the advantage of kicking towards the travelling fans who’d never stopped singing for the entirety of the first half, but it got off to the worst possible start.
Cirkin conceded a cheap foul in a dangerous position, and the resulting free kick was glanced home by an offside Scott Wharton. No VAR to save the day, 2-0 Rovers, and suddenly our task had gone from tough to positively arduous.
Despite the frustration at conceding a second goal, we responded quickly and with ferocity, as Kaminski was forced into a smart save from Danny Batth and Clarke made some driving runs into the box that had the home defence scrambling, but the much-needed shot simply didn’t come.
Tony Mowbray then rolled the dice, as Amad, Abdoullah Ba and Jewison Bennette entered the fray, but the Costa Rican was promptly booked after an altercation with a ball boy as the game suddenly turned spicy.
At the seventy minute mark, our night got worse, when Aji Alese limped off after a crunching challenge. It was good to see Trai Hume returning as a result, but the last thing we need is for the ex-West Ham defender to be absent for any length of time.
The remainder of the game elapsed in familiar fashion: plenty of possession, but little sign of clawing our way back into the game, as Rovers got bodies in the way and did everything they could to smother us.
A crisp shot from Bennette was saved by Kaminski and Clarke broke into the box but dithered at the exact moment when it was easier to pull the trigger. Shooting is a real issue for us at the moment, and Mowbray will doubtless be trying to rectify it.
The fallout from this match will likely be discussed until the weekend, when Burnley arrive on Wearside, and hopefully we can use the frustration to put on a performance that will bring a just reward at full time on Saturday evening.