‘We would have lost that game last season’ has become embedded in football linguistics, but is largely a hypothetical thought based upon a feeling.

Yet coming from behind to rescue a point at Bristol City, Rovers had plenty of recent evidence to back up that claim.

As they enjoyed waves of possession in the second half but struggled to draw a save out of Dan Bentley the mind only had to cast back to last December where they were beaten 1-0 at the very same ground.

That was one of 10 occasions across both league and cup where Rovers were beaten 1-0 and as the clock ticked into the final 15 minutes at Ashton Gate they looked to be adding a second to their tally this season.

But with a striker in the form of his life and only needing one chance to score they were able to head back to East Lancashire with a share of the spoils as Ben Brereton rifled a shot into the roof of the net from the tightest of angles.

It represents a sense of progress.

To coin a Tony Mowbray phrase, this was a point to put in the bag and move on.

It was one that looked a way off in a first half performance that was well short of the level required, deservedly behind and plenty of work to do.

Rovers needed to change approach, but more simply, Daniel Ayala on the pitch. 

They turned to a back three for the second half at Millwall and Middlesbrough and required likewise here due to getting over-run and outmuscled.

While the change was necessary, Tony Mowbray wouldn’t have wanted to make it in such circumstances, Ayala turned to as the man to replace Ian Poveda who left the field on a stretcher with his left leg in a brace.

Poveda had been presented with a second successive start as Mowbray stuck with an unchanged side for only the second time this season, reward for their display against Sheffield United prior to the international break.

Ayala’s arrival brought a move to back three and with it a more steely look to the side having been troubled continually by the hosts’ direct play, including long throws and set plays. He brought calm where there had previously been chaos.

But could Rovers crack the code going the other way? They had set up to play on the counter-attack from the off but had to revert to trying to break down a Bristol City side who had gone into their shell.

That is what made it such a throwback to last season. Rovers’ struggles this season have come when enjoying more of the ball, with Mowbray turning to his creative forces off the bench in Joe Rothwell and Leighton Clarkson.

Yet it was seizing on a poor header that provided Brereton with the only chance he needed to draw them level.

A positive is that Rovers have now scored in 16 of their 18 Championship fixtures. They have needed it, a concern being they have only managed three clean sheets.  

Their net was breached 11 minutes before the break when Callum O’Dowda broke clear of the backline to beat Thomas Kaminski via a deflection.

Kaminski had earlier made a smart reflex save to stop Scott Wharton turning into his own net, moments before Darragh Lenihan made a goal-saving block to deny Tyreeq Bakinson.

Rovers went through the first half without a corner or shot, eventually ending their wait in the 49th and 59th minutes respectively.

John Buckley’s curling effort from the edge of the box was their first attempt at goal, with the equaliser coming from their first, and what turned out to be sole, shot on target.

The tables had been turned with the play only heading one way, and Rovers went close to an unlikely winner when substitutes Clarkson and Rothwell teamed up for the latter to volley wide.

With six additional minutes in the first half and five more in the second half the game spanned beyond the 100 mark and not before Kaminski had made sure of the point with a flying save to deny a Nahki Wells header.

A back three hasn’t always proved popular this season, more often used as a containing tactic previously, but here it provided Rovers a platform from which to build. 

They were able to recycle the ball much better and with Lenihan and Scott Wharton on the outside of the three centre halves they had players who used it well.

Tayo Edun seemed better suited as a wing-back, much more than as a full back having got the nod over Harry Pickering despite his return to fitness.

Ryan Nyambe struggled against the threat of O’Dowda but has shown his ability to play in a more advanced role, but the make-up of the midfield and attack would be the biggest conundrum to crack.

It is a system Mowbray clearly likes and with three senior centre halves available and another in Jan Paul van Hecke with only one game more to serve on his suspension he has the players at his disposal.

Picking the right times to do it will be key, but this was very-much a game-changing move.

Had they carried on as they were it was hard to see the hosts not scoring again, but there was equally a much greater intensity to their play that helped the stark improvement.

The manager admitted in retrospect that he hadn’t been as flexible as he could have been with his approach and system last season and has looked to address that this time around.

Concerns remain around finding a way counteract teams operating with a back three and showing what they can offer over 90, rather than 45, minutes. 

Yet there have been greater powers of recovery, this the second successive game in which Rovers have conceded first and a four-point haul is particularly pleasing.