THE applause at the final whistle was prolonged and heartfelt. Blackburn Rovers may have lost the match, but they had rediscovered a part of their soul.

Two years ago, just 8,635 were inside a sterile Ewood Park for a last-eight tie against Millwall. Never before had an FA Cup quarter-final seemed less like an FA Cup quarter-final.

It was a symbol of the disconnect between Rovers and their supporters, such was the anger about the club’s slide from the Premier League to Championship relegation trouble under Venky’s rule.

This time, it could not have been any more different.

A sell-out crowd of 28,415 and the way supporters still cheered in defeat told you that progress has been made, that now there is hope.

Promotion is still a major task that lies ahead. But after two years of rebuilding, fans believed in their team again.

Where once there were chickens on the pitch at Ewood, now there were lions. The big match feeling had returned.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Among those present were former Rovers star Phil Jones, club legend Tony Parkes and famous fan Carl Fogarty.

Former players Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton were there as television pundits, although David Thompson suffered traffic misery outside the ground that forced him to miss the opening stages of the match.

David Raya, Jason Lowe, Shane Duffy, Grant Hanley, Chris Taylor, Paul Taylor, Jay Spearing, John O’Sullivan, Josh King, David Dunn, Chris Brown. Rovers had 11 players absent for this game, only a natural left-back short of a balanced line-up, but it did not deter them.

The roars of the Rovers fans reached fever pitch in the second half after the introduction of Rudy Gestede from the bench. Victory seemed within their grasp at that point.

Philippe Coutinho’s goal ultimately broke Rovers hearts, but not their spirit.

Heather Small’s Proud belted out at the final whistle. It could not have been more apt.

This felt more like the beginning of a recovery, than the end of a cup run.