Blackburn Rovers relish payback after the penalty to the shock of Stoke City
BLACKBURN // Sometimes it seems Blackburn Rovers are trying to get knocked out of the FA Cup but they are not succeeding.
With a peculiar, paradoxical kind of failure, they advanced to the quarter-finals after producing a memorable, magnificent performance when it seemed they would settle for a mediocre exit. Instead, Premier League Stoke City beat an ungracious retreat, delivering a dismal display while supporters scuffled with stewards.
Blackburn keep naming weakened teams, carry on leaving vast numbers of empty seats and still eliminate top-flight teams.
Like Swansea City, Stoke perished at a semi-full Ewood Park. Like Swansea, they ended the first half without a full complement of players, with Geoff Cameron the latest visitor to be sent off. Thereafter, Rovers’ reserves were rampant.
“The lads didn’t get enough credit in the last round,” said manager Gary Bowyer, who prioritised Tuesday’s Championship game with Cardiff, made eight changes and saw Josh King, a forward with a solitary previous goal this season, score a hat-trick inside 20 minutes.
The Norwegian became the latest addition to the FA Cup’s canon of improbable heroes as Stoke contrived to make a stand-in look unstoppable.
Cameron’s red card came for hauling back King and brought the penalty Rudy Gestede converted to put Rovers 2-1 up.
“The sending off was the bit of luck you need,” Bowyer said.
Yet shambolic as Stoke were, especially in defence, and while much of it made for error-strewn entertainment, Rovers flourished.
“We were outstanding to a man,” Bowyer said.
They performed with such ebullience to invite questions if Blackburn’s second-string would beat their first 11, who stand ninth in the second tier.
There was a fundamental simplicity to their game plan.
“We identified areas we thought we might get success. King’s pace was one of them and the rest of the team played to his strengths,” Bowyer said. It worked.
Yet Stoke should have been out of sight after Peter Crouch prodded them ahead.
Marko Arnautovic and Mame Biram Diouf missed glaring chances before King first hit the bar and then levelled with a glancing header.
Then Cameron went off. Gestede set up King for carbon-copy goals, with the Norwegian sent scurrying clear to finish calmly.
Stoke were not and manager Mark Hughes, a former Blackburn player and manager, endured a miserable return to Ewood Park.
“It was a very poor performance,” he said, his disappointment compounded by the loss of the awful, and now hamstrung, Marc Muniesa. All in all, it was a terrible day for the club.
One Stoke supporter was taken away on a stretcher and others reportedly threw punches at stewards amid claims Blackburn fans threw bottles.
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Published: February 15, 2015 04:00 AM