Stoke survive late rally to jolt Blackburn’s promotion hopes
Blackburn’s automatic promotion hopes suffered a setback as Stoke staved off a desperate fightback to beat them in the Championship. The visitors launched a late revival but failed to prevent their 11-match unbeaten run in all competitions from drawing to an end.
A confident Stoke side – who thumped Sunderland 5-1 last weekend – picked up from where they left off with a quickfire first-half double.
The Wolves loanee Ki-Jana Hoever twice finished expertly as he met accurate crosses, notching the first league goals of his career. Tyrese Campbell added a third to put Stoke within reach of recording successive league victories for the first time since October.
However, late Rovers goals from Ben Brereton Diaz – his 12th of the season – and Sam Gallagher then nearly teed up a grandstand finish. But it proved too little, too late for Blackburn, as they failed to register a fifth consecutive league win or close the gap on the top two.
Joe Rankin-Costello, making his 50th appearance for Rovers, had a chance to celebrate the occasion in style, but he miscued a volley harmlessly wide.
The winter recruit Ben Pearson has made a strong impression since his Stoke switch and the Bournemouth loanee was on hand to thwart Sammie Szmodics.
Pearson’s intervention proved vital as the hosts gradually grew into the fixture. Campbell advanced forward with purpose and teed up Will Smallbone inside the area – but the midfielder’s effort crashed off the underside of the crossbar.
However, Smallbone’s blushes were saved when Dwight Gayle’s deep delivery was met by an onrushing Hoever, who volleyed into the top corner. It was a positive omen for the home side, who had won 10 and drawn one of their 11 league games after scoring the first goal.
The hosts looked to put the game out of sight before the interval with Smallbone testing Aynsley Pears with a stinging long-range strike.
Stoke’s strong finish to the opening period was then rewarded as Hoever landed a second goal as he stooped to nod home a pinpoint Josh Laurent cross. The travelling 1,695 fans then felt aggrieved when the referee, Matthew Donohue, waved away penalty appeals, with replays showing Szmodics’s effort struck Gayle’s arm.
Rovers looked to channel their frustration with a second-half fightback, with a fierce Lewis Travis effort testing the Stoke goalkeeper Jack Bonham.
The hosts looked to have put the game out of reach when Campbell scored a third goal in two games after more good work from Laurent.
But Stoke-born Brereton Diaz and Gallagher teed up a nervy finish with two late headers to reduce the deficit to one. However, their best efforts ultimately proved to be in vain as Alex Neil’s side held on for a narrow victory.
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