It will have been a surreal feeling for many Rovers fans at 3pm on Saturday. Their team was back in action after a long 104 days away, but they couldn’t be there.

Rather than making the usual journey to Ewood Park, the only trips being made were to the fridge for a cold beer, or to stick the kettle on, those drinks breaks come in handy for something, at least.

Years of unbroken and unwavering support on the terraces, up and down the country and further afield, ended by the only thing that would keep them away: a worldwide pandemic. But not even will have broken the passion demonstrated in living rooms from East Lancashire to Eastern Europe.

As for those privileged few allowed access, it was different too. But much of that centred around what happened before 3pm, and after 5pm. Between those times it was almost business as usual: reporting on football.

With no northern Premier League games scheduled for Saturday, and fellow north-west sides Wigan and Preston both away, there was a decent showing from the press, Rovers reaching the allotted 30 that are allowed entry under EFL guidelines.

There were familiar faces among them, though social distancing meant conversations were held across rows of seats and gangways.

There was a different car park to drive in to, only one access point to the ground, but only after submitting a health questionnaire and having your temperature taken.

And in to the ‘amber zone’ it was, hand sanitiser on offer throughout, as was a mask, though not compulsory, with markings on the floor pointing the way.

Entry was a little later than you would normally arrive at a game, but certainly not pressed for time ahead of the teams being announced at 2pm.

There was no access to the media lounge, or interview rooms, but unlike some clubs, Rovers positioned the press in their usual spot behind the directors box which could accommodate 10 officials per club.

The artificial crowd noise was noticeable, but not off-putting. One main difference in the warm-up was seeing the starting XI come out well before the substitutes, though that appeared to be a decision of Rovers, with Bristol City training together.

There were staggered entrances and exits from the tunnel to the pitch, and vice versa, and no changing of ends, but still music to run-out to. 

Many complaints about the lack of fans at games has actually come from season ticket holders at Sky Sports FC, rather than those supporters who would be at the games watching their team.

For many, they’re just happy to be welcoming back some signs of normality, such as working out Rovers’ formation, cursing the bad luck of Ben Brereton as he rounded the goalkeeper only for his studs to malfunction, and questioning some bizarre refereeing decisions.  

As for the feel inside the ground, that wasn’t too dissimilar to the last match played at Ewood Park, Rovers’ FA Youth Cup rout against Arsenal in March, hearing instructions from the dugouts and voices of the players is normal practice in Academy football.

Lancashire Telegraph:

There was no shortage of action on the pitch, or competitive spirit, you try telling Lewis Travis these were ‘sanitised games with a pre-season feel’ as he copped an early late tackle from Han-Noah Massengo before giving something extra back late on in the half with a crunching challenge.

We saw the effect of the five substitutes rule, playing in to Rovers’ hands as their ability to switch their front three midway through the second half saw them seal the game through Adam Armstrong.

Sadly there was to be no standing ovation for Corry Evans as he trudged off after an excellent return to the side, instead a hearty round of applause, before the stadium announcer read out the words: ‘And the Peter Jackson the Jeweller man of the match goes to Rovers’ No.29, Corry Evans’.

Midway through the second half as the players enjoyed a drinks break, an email landed with a Zoom code. An post-match audience with Tony Mowbray came not in close quarters as would be the norm, but online.

Technical issues arose after the first question, posed by BBC Radio Lancashire’s Andy Bayes. Mowbray was on hand to offer advice: ‘push the screen and it will bring up a microphone, just push the mute button. I’ve done about 3,000 of them in the last few months’ he joked, as confused faces tried to follow instructions.

Manager’s media duties fulfilled, it was the turn of Corry Evans to take to the chair. Six minutes, a nod of the head and a ‘cheers’, later, interviews were done and the transcribing began.

Lancashire Telegraph:

While matches are seemingly now split in to four quarters, a journalist’s time inside the ground is now split in to three lots of 90 minutes. The first to get set-up and take in the team news, then the most important as the match takes place, and then the next hour-and-a-half to conduct interviews, get work filed and be out of the stadium by 6.30pm.

That timescale isn’t too dissimilar to a normal matchday. Hot drinks are a luxury of the past for now, but there was water and a scramble for biscuits as they were delivered at half-time.

With no replays inside the ground, or crowd noise giving you the cue to lift your head above your laptop, there was an extra need to focus on what was going on.

Rovers won, the main take-away being the fact that whatever the occasion, that is a priceless feeling.  Fans got to watch their team again, albeit not in person, but in these trying circumstances, any sense of normality should be welcomed.

Don’t get wrapped up in viewing this against what football would normally be like, against what you’re used to. Appreciate that fact that football is back. It might not be what we’re used to, or prefer, but it’s near as damm-it.  

The all-round feel isn't the same, but it's what we've got for now. And that's something we can all get behind.