Blackburn Rovers 1 Northampton Town 1 – match review, player ratings and highlights

BREAKTHROUGH: John-Joe O'Toole scored the first goal for the third successive game on Saturday, heading the Cobblers 1-0 in front against Blackburn. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
BREAKTHROUGH: John-Joe O'Toole scored the first goal for the third successive game on Saturday, heading the Cobblers 1-0 in front against Blackburn. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

The statistics do not reflect it, and most of those who were in attendance at Ewood Park may not agree, but this 1-1 draw in a game of contrasting styles was both a fair outcome and another demonstration of how far the Cobblers have come.

Indeed, it says a lot for their swift improvement that this result came more as a mild – and pleasant – surprise rather than a major shock. It can be a dangerous game to claim that a team has turned a corner but if the Cobblers hadn’t gone round it prior to their trip to Ewood Park on Saturday, they surely have now.

Previous wins over Southend and MK Dons were encouraging, almost as encouraging as their significant success at Bradford City, but the respective plights of those teams in recent times, particularly the latter, still left it open to question whether or not Town really have what it takes to go on a sustained and consistent run of form, both in terms of performances and results.

Now we have confirmation. From disciplined organisation to sturdy determination, there was so much to admire about their display at Ewood Park. They were unrecognisable from the team that, only last month, wilted on the road to Doncaster and Portsmouth and, just a few weeks earlier, were thrashed 5-1 by Oldham Athletic, who now, remarkably, are four points and two places beneath them in the table.

If you were not at Ewood Park to see how this contest played out and chose to base your opinion on the bare facts, you’d reach the conclusion that Blackburn were hard pressed not to claim victory and Northampton were fortunate to walk away with a point.

Rovers had all of the possession, virtually all of the pressure and four times as many attempts on goal, but the fact of the matter is they didn’t do enough with the ball to merit more than a draw with most of those shots coming from unlikely scoring positions.

If football was merely a possession game, Rovers would have won this at a canter. Their attacking play lacked variation and cutting edge, so often resorting to getting the ball wide and crossing it into the box and that played right into the hands of their visitors as Ash Taylor, Regan Poole and Jordan Turnbull mopped up when needed.

Had they created chances with that possession, Tony Mowbray may have had a point when he claimed his side did more than enough to win it. The fact is, though, Town goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell, in terms of pure shot-stopping, had perhaps his quietest afternoon since signing for the club.

His most notable contribution to Town’s effort was to pluck crosses out of the air and waste time. He did both of those throughout the 90 minutes and they served two purposes: one to give his defence some respite and two to rile up the agitated home crowd.

O’Donnell’s workload was kept to a minimum by the players in front of him. Well-organised and well-drilled, Town showed discipline to keep their shape and stop Blackburn from getting into dangerous positions. And when they did get through the hard-working duo of Matt Crooks and Matt Grimes in midfield, one of the back four – usually Taylor – would step in to make a crucial intervention.

When Northampton took a lead into half-time, it was not through luck. Yes, John-Joe O’Toole’s well-taken goal from a well-worked move was one of very few chances but, all the same, take away Blackburn’s control of the ball and they too had precious little to shout about.

You cannot blame Town for their defensive approach. Despite rapid progress over recent, they still do not boast the same quality as their hosts and they were always going to come with a game plan to sit in, frustrate and hope to pinch something on the break.

This was, after all, still a contest between second and 18th, a team with a +25 goal difference and a long unbeaten run and a team with a -22 goal difference and still in the middle of a relegation scrap and desperate for points.

Once Town edged ahead through O’Toole, who applied the finishing touch to a swift counter-attack that involved Crooks, Chris Long and a pinpoint Joe Bunney cross, it was about protecting it.

From disciplined organisation to sturdy determination, there was so much to admire about their display at Ewood Park. They were unrecognisable from the team that, only last month, wilted on the road to Doncaster and Portsmouth and, just a few weeks earlier, were thrashed 5-1 by Oldham Athletic

They did that until 74 minutes. The final 16, once Danny Graham’s header dragged Rovers level, were a tough watch for the noisy 943 travelling fans as the hosts surged forward with wave after wave of attack, but their tenacious team continued to soak up the pressure and allowed them to make the long trip home with a bonus point that inches them closer to survival. Six more wins, with the odd draw mixed in, should do it.

The challenge for Blackburn on Saturday was to use their array of attacking talent to break the Cobblers down but they were confronted by a resolute team playing with new-found belief and confidence.

It’s difficult to imagine Northampton having the same character and resilience prior to January, especially bearing in mind the abomination at Oldham and their struggles in other away games throughout the campaign.

Blackburn fans can point to defensive tactics and time-wasting antics all they wish but, regardless, they still had more than enough quality and time to overhaul a one-goal deficit and turn it into three points.

That they failed to do that was down to one thing: their stubborn, rejuvenated visitors who refused to roll over.

How they rated...

Richard O’Donnell - Despite all of Blackburn’s possession and pressure, his hardest save was a relatively comfortable one in beating away Dack’s low drive. Other than that, it was about claiming crosses and wasting time to allow his defence some respite, both of which he did to great effect (and to the increasing frustration of Ewood Park)... 8

Shay Facey - Found himself outnumbered on his flank at times, especially first-half, as Rovers targeted that side as a potential weakness. Found assistance in Hoskins though and stood up to the task admirably... 7

Regan Poole - It was unfortunate that his slight misjudgement, losing Graham for the leveller, cost his side two points because otherwise he had been terrific. Returned to the team after two games out and didn’t let his manager down. His versatility makes him a useful option for these type of games... 7

Ash Taylor - Blackburn’s crossing tactic played right into his hands. Aerially dominant and led the line superbly, highlight being two outstanding, goal-protecting blocks from Conway and Dack and then a magnificent tackle on Armstrong... 8

Jordan Turnbull - Returning to left-back, this was his best 90 minutes in the three games he’s played since signing for the club. Tucked inside to help his centre-backs head away crosses and clear balls into the box while also stemming the supply from Rovers’ right... 8 CHRON STAR MAN

Matt Crooks - Started the move which led to O’Toole’s goal but was loose in possession in dangerous areas and Rovers needed no second invitation to get forward. Tightened up as the game progressed and played his part in the team’s gritty defensive effort... 7

Matt Grimes - Was in tenacious, defensive mode for most of the game, run off his feet chasing after the ball that was so often in Blackburn’s possession. Got his foot in to nick it back though and didn’t let the hosts play through the middle too often, forcing them to go out wide making it easier for Town to contain them... 8

Sam Hoskins - In the few instances he got the ball in opposition territory, he didn’t do enough with it. Tracked his runners though and was energetic down the right flank. Will always put in a shift for his team... 7

Joe Bunney - Two games for the Cobblers and two assists to his name, both left-wing crosses for O’Toole. Lovely clipped was perfect for the midfielder to nod in. Tired towards the end, partially explaining his loose pass that led to the leveller... 7

John-Joe O’Toole - The main man once again, timing his run to perfection to apply the finishing touch to a fine move and score the all-important first goal for the third straight game. Thereafter it was all about getting stuck in and he’s seldom afraid to do just that... 8

Chris Long - Instrumental in the goal, leading the break and then picking out a pass. Had precious little service but never stopped making runs and chasing long balls, keeping the Rovers defence honest... 7

Substitutes

Daniel Powell - 6

Sam Foley - 6

Gboly Ariyibi - 6