Tony Mowbray said he was judging Rovers’ first half of the season based upon his eyes, rather than the statistics.

And to a point, while Rovers have trailed last season’s points tally at the same stage for some time, there was evidence from what we'd seen the team was moving forward and doing so with a clear identity.

But of late, neither your eyes or the statistics are offering much comfort to supporters, many who fear that just two league games in 2021 another long run to the finish line awaits.

For all but a few fleeting glimpses, this was dire stuff from Rovers, a first half devoid of energy that the pitch couldn't excuse followed by a second halted by a raft of stoppages.

The game threatened to hinge on a six minute spell in which Rovers managed their first shot on target as Adam Armstrong was denied by Joe Bursik, John Buckley came up with an equaliser and then James Chester sent off moments later. With 12 minutes left on the watch, there was a chance of an unlikely victory. But that's how their prospects remained as a grandstand finish never materialised.

The confidence in this side is coming from what you think they are capable of and their qualities as individuals rather than anything we’ve seen of late. They’ve always lacked consistency, but are now flattering to deceive, leaving you racking your brains for the last time they put in a complete performance.

Mowbray continues to speak with belief and confidence in his group that they can rediscover their form and hit the early season heights once again, however. Yet he knows all too well how another season of mid-table will be viewed, he warned as much on the eve of the 2019/20 opener against Charlton Athletic.

That’s why he’s been so keen to push expectations, but with that comes an increased scrutiny for which to be judged against. So far, they’re falling well short.

Yet the manager dismissed suggestions that the momentum has been sapped from Rovers’ season with the goals drying up, but it’s an increasingly hard case to argue against as they gravitate once again towards mid-table.

Now for the stats.

Rovers have taken 33 points from 24 games, yet 42 per cent of their points (14) have come from a quarter of their fixtures, a six match unbeaten run between November 3 and December 2.

They avoided a sixth defeat in nine games courtesy of Buckley’s equaliser which gained, rather than earned, them a point. The positive here is that Buckley’s was the eighth goal scored by a substitute this season, and even factoring in the extra replacements allowed, this is a plus.

Yet for a team so impressive when scoring first, taking 25 points from a possible 27 when doing so, their inability to find the opening goal is a real worry. They fell behind for an eighth time in nine matches, and were left facing a tough route back from the moment Nick Powell headed home unmarked for the second in time in a month. A carbon copy of the bet365 Stadium meeting felt on the cards.

It also felt similar to games that have gone before at Ewood, late rescue acts a regular pattern. Injury-time winners have come against Millwall and Rotherham United, 76th minute equalisers to force draws against Sheffield Wednesday and now Stoke, while Sam Gallagher’s 78th minute strike proved to be the difference against Barnsley.

For a team who were kings of the early goal last season, they have started too sluggish far too often, scoring in the first half of just one of their last nine matches.

Of those last 10 matches, they have been level for 488 minutes, behind for 304 and ahead for just 108 minutes of normal time, with two injury-time winners in the mix.

While there may have been control of the ball, the same can't be said of their destiny.

There have been mitigating factors this season, Jarrad Branthwaite’s debut meant Rovers have now used seven different central defensive pairings, the teenager, who impressed on his first start, the fifth different partner for Darragh Lenihan in just a matter of weeks.

However, Mowbray has rarely been left wanting during his time in charge, big-money signings in the summers of 2018 and 2019, while having stressed the importance of adding to their defensive ranks following injuries, finances for Branthwaite were found, and there remains the prospect of another before the window is out.

There is too the investment in the recruitment department and analysis technology at the club's Brockhall training base.

In the same period, David Raya is the only first-team regular to have been sold, Rovers also retaining the services of key players, and securing others to improved contracts.

After the match talked turned to the Ewood Park pitch, for which similar adjectives could be used as to those of the performance, Mowbray outlined the investment required to make the necessary improvements, all outgoings for which Rovers need to see a return. 

The returns of Bradley Dack and Lewis Travis were supposed to herald an upturn in fortunes, and while Travis’ display at Birmingham City, where Dack scored his first goal since returning, demonstrated just what they’ve missed, the reality has hit home in the last two matches.

Both will need time to get up to speed, something Rovers don’t really have.

Mowbray stated after the Doncaster defeat their inclusions wouldn’t come at the detriment of the team, but it’s the only way they can improve their match sharpness.

An early booking here set Travis back, meaning he couldn’t fly into the tackles he otherwise would, many presented by a poor first touch, his substitution overdue when it did arrive.

Dack too was starved of the ball, dropping deeper and deeper to try and get involved, and by the time his departure came with 19 minutes to go, he’d touched the ball just 21 times.

Rovers will likely have to ride out their reintegration period for a little while longer, so much do they need two of their star men to fire.

Powell has now scored more headers against Rovers than they have managed as a team all season, the attacker getting away from Ryan Nyambe to plant a header beyond Thomas Kaminski.

The Belgian then made a fine stop to deny Powell netting from another set play, while Jordan Thompson rattled the post, this all in a final eight minutes of the first half where Rovers were all at sea.

The hosts thought they had found an opener from their best bit of play of the first half, Joe Rothwell leading a break before playing in Adam Armstrong, his celebrations at seeing his shot squirm through the hands of Joe Bursik cut short by the linesman’s flag. At best it was a close call, at worst, a wrong one.

The second half was arguably even worse than the first, doggedly attritional and lacking quality, neither side threatened until Armstrong’s shot from a Nyambe cut-back was palmed behind by Bursik.

The full back got forward to good effect moments later, his cross evading Ben Brereton, but just kept in by Harvey Elliott at the back post to present a simple tap-in for Buckley.

When Chester saw red for hauling down Armstrong, a confident Rovers would have put their foot to the floor in search of a winner, but Stoke’s experience, yet more stoppages, and poor delivery into the middle meant it didn’t take much of a rearguard action to see the game through.

The top six is starting to look set, with Rovers some way in the distance, and a tough assignment to come against promotion-chasing Swansea City on Tuesday, before a trip to Middlesbrough on Sunday, Rovers need to instil some life back into a season that is passing them by.

Performances and statistics are becoming an increasingly tough to view.