Fans were back at Ewood, and they applauded a wholehearted performance from a depleted, Academy-heavy, side against Premier League opponents Leeds United.

It was a night of pride for fans and players to share, and questions of quite how Rovers have found themselves in this position 10 days out from the start of a season were forgotten about, at least for a few hours.

It was heartening to see a starting line-up of six Academy graduates, and with 180 Championship starts last year between them, giving it as good as they have got, for some the biggest stage in which they have played.

This felt different, but a good different, special infact. The fact Thomas Kaminski and Tyrhys Dolan, as well as Harry Pickering, got warm Ewood Park welcomes shows just how long it has been since supporters graced the stands. And how they have been missed.

There was a buzz outside the ground ahead of kick-off, even a queue at the ticket office, it was like going back in time, 17 months to be exact.

Leeds were at Ewood a little over 12 months ago, but two seasons, and plenty has happened at both clubs since then, this time competing with a division between them.

Rovers went with a back three, though you would be hard pushed to think this was some way of experimenting two weeks out from the start of the season, more an indication of the options available to Tony Mowbray.

The crowd were right behind their side though, the game was blood and thunder from the off, every tackle greeted with a fierce roar, as to their great credit, the Rovers youngsters diligently stuck to their task

The opposition and atmosphere will have played a huge part, but the tempo and ferocity at which Rovers were playing was a stark contrast to that against Bradford four days previous.

Daniel Ayala, Joe Rothwell and Harry Chapman added to the absentee list, Lewis Travis missing for a second successive game, still no Sam Gallagher, Bradley Johnson out for a third straight match which left Rovers down to the bare bones, but much to the home crowds delight, Ben Brereton was back, obliging to a chant of ‘Diaz give us a wave’.

Leeds went as strong as they could, the one eye-catching absence that of one of the stars of England’s run to the Euro 2020 final, Kalvin Phillips.

The obvious danger, as demonstrated by the excitement of the away end every time he got the ball, was Raphina. Playing from the right he first teed up Helder Costa, and then Mateusz Klich in quick succession, with Kaminski making an eye-catching one-handed stop to tip wide a shot from the Pole, Ryan Nyambe having thrown himself bravely into the early attempt.

That wasn’t to say Rovers weren’t without good bits of play of their own, John Buckley freeing Adam Armstrong with an excellent pass, the striker denied a free shot at goal inside the box by an excellent covering tackle by Diego Llorente.

Buckley was coming into the game, and aside from the dancing feet of Dolan, was Rovers’ liveliest player. His ability to carry the ball through the heart of the midfield was evident as he drifted into the box, his shot too close to Meslier who held on.

Digging in and not shirking any challenge, Rovers made to the break all square and likely with renewed confidence, and came out for the second half with Brereton on for Dolan.

An excellent piece of skill from the newly-crowned King of Chile brought great cheers from the home end, while at the other end, Raphina continued to be the visitors main threat.
Pickering was sticking to his task well, but a short corner gave the winger a chance to shoot, Kaminski getting down well to save, as he did to tip over Robin Koch’s header from a corner moments later.

That all came by the hour mark, with Rovers firmly in the game, albeit courtesy of some manful defending, and smart Kaminski stops.

Brereton continued to lead the charge alongside Armstrong, his name chanted in the Blackburn End as another now trademark driving run was ended by a left-footed shot which caused Meslier more issues than it needed to, hanging on at the second attempt.

Three changes for Leeds were followed by two for Rovers, more youngsters, this time in the form of Dan Pike, Lenni Cirino, Jack Vale and Connor McBride for the final 20 minutes.

Who could have imagined the impact they would have. CIrino won a free kick 20 yards out with an excellent driving run, McBride standing over it, and then charged over to the Blackburn End in celebration as his deflected effort found the corner.

A youthful Rovers side then had to try and see it through, they were helped along the way by some fine Hayden Carter headers, and smart Kaminski saves, his next being to tip over an attempted Tyler Roberts chip.

You began to think it would take something special to beat Kaminski, in the end it was a cruel deflection off captain Lenihan. Dan Pike’s clearing header didn’t get the distance it required, the ball squared for Pascal Struijk whose shot clipped Lenihan on the way into the net nine minutes from time.

But that couldn’t detract from the work that Rovers had put in. The task is now to ensure that the young lads who impressed so much are challenging for a first-team spot on merit, not used because of few alternatives.


Rovers: Kaminski, Nyambe (Pike, 70), Lenihan, Carter, Magloire, Pickering (Cirino, 70), Garrett, Buckley (Vale, 70), Davenport, Dolan (Brereton, 46), Armstrong (McBride, 70)

Subs: Eastham, Stergiakis, Butterworth, Nolan, Annesley

Leeds: Meslier, Shackleton, Llorente (Ayling, 46), Koch, Firpo (Dallas, 62), Struijk, Klich, Harrison, Raphina (Roberts, 62), Costa, Rodrigo (Greenwood, 62)