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Vital three points for Blackburn Rovers in relegation fight
ON Saturday they crumbled after going behind. This time Rovers responded in fine style to move themselves to within a whisker of safety.
At Watford at the weekend, one goal quickly became four as they could not reply to the Hornets’ opener.
But just as some feared Rovers’ game in hand could be going to waste last night, Gary Bowyer’s side dug deep and secured a victory that in truth they deserved for their domination of possession for long spells.
Millwall complained bitterly about the decision to award Rovers a penalty after Grant Hanley was tripped after an incredible solo run into the box.
The arguments continued after the final whistle, when Danny Shittu was shown a red card for dissent.
But this was payback for the Lions’ FA Cup quarter final victory at Ewood Park a month ago, and ensured that Rovers moved five points clear of the relegation zone with only two games left to play.
They are not mathematically safe yet, but surely their current total of 56 points will be enough to ensure their place in the Championship next season.
Victory at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday will make sure, and avoid their relegation battle going to a nervy final day at Birmingham City.
It was also Rovers’ first away win in the league since a 3-1 triumph at Barnsley on December 29.
Gary Bowyer made three changes to the side that lost 4-0 at Watford on Saturday, with Hanley and Colin Kazim-Richards coming back into the team after two-match bans.
Hanley replaced Gael Givet, ruled out with a hamstring injury, while Kazim-Richards came in for the suspended Leon Best.
Josh Morris also started in place of Josh King, with Jason Lowe ruled out with a knee injury.
Danny Murphy was named in the squad for the first time since the 3-0 loss at Cardiff, taking his place on the bench.
Rovers were backed by 240 loyal travelling supporters and had the first chance as Kazim-Richards could not get enough contact on an overhead kick and Morris saw his shot blocked.
Kazim-Richards picked up an injury to his right shoulder in the incident and was still feeling it as he returned to the pitch.
Fourteen minutes into the game and he was left in agony on the floor after aggravating the injury in another challenge, in the chain of events that led to Millwall taking the lead.
Hanley’s foul on Millwall’s right flank allowed James Henry to swing in a free kick and Mark Beevers headed the ball back at the far post. Rovers were unable to clear and defender Karleigh Osbourne swivelled to fire in from eight yards off the post.
With Kazim-Richards making his exit, replaced by David Goodwillie, it was a nightmare start for Rovers.
But the visitors had a decent chance to equalise when David Dunn’s clever lofted pass played in the overlapping Todd Kane, whose attempted lob was not quite high enough to evade keeper David Forde.
Dunn then surged forward himself, before firing over from the edge of the box. Rovers were starting to really push forward for an equaliser, controlling possession well, and they came so close to getting it when Forde made a superb save to tip Jones’ 25-yard piledriver over the bar.
Bowyer brought on King for Markus Olsson at half time, moving Morris to left back.
Dunn was taking up a more central role, with Goodwillie operating from the right.
Jones forced another fine save from Forde as he drove in another fearsome long-range effort.
Was this going to be another game, like the defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, when Rovers could not make possession count?
No. As an equaliser came 11 minutes into the second half.
Jones swung in a corner to the near post from the right and a Millwall header flicked it on before the ball appeared to strike another Lions player on its way in.
It was the goal Rovers deserved, and they sought a second as Dunn forced a save from Forde.
Millwall made a double substitution and started to stem the tide but an extraordinary 60-yard run from Hanley then saw the Rovers centre back win a penalty.
The home side complained that Hanley had gone to ground too easily but he appeared to be tripped by Osbourne as he attempted a shot.
After a lengthy delay as Millwall took out their frustrations, Jordan Rhodes calmly sent Forde the wrong way from the spot before celebrating in front of the angry Lions fans.
Sandomierski was required to save from Osbourne in injury time as Millwall sent keeper Forde forward.
But Rovers were able to hang on, to the sound of ‘We are staying up’ from the travelling fans.
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