Blackburn 3 Shrewsbury Town 1 - Report and pictures
Shrewsbury were dealt a first defeat in 10 games after hosts Blackburn won the battle of second against third in League One, writes Lewis Cox at Ewood Park.
Rovers, who closed the gap to Paul Hurst’s men to two points, became the first side to score three beyond Town this season thanks to a flurry on the hour mark.
Rovers struck early through talented skipper Charlie Mulgrew, but Town rode a difficult half hour and hauled level after Jon Nolan’s penalty.
But Danny Graham pounced in the second period before defender Mulgrew added his second - and 11th of the season - from the spot after Dean Henderson conceded a penalty to help the hosts condemn Shrews to just a fourth league defeat of the season.
Town remain in the League One automatic promotion spots despite Blackburn cutting the gap. Leaders Wigan extended their lead to three points after drawing with Peterborough.
Town were full value going in level at the break after a tough start where they did not click into gear.
Chances went both ways at the beginning of the second period as Shrewsbury looked to send the 1,387 into ecstasy.
But quick-fire goals on the hour mark shook Town to the core and proved enough in the end.
Hurst selected the same XI that travelled for the first versus second encounter at Wigan on Boxing Day, as well as last weekend’s FA Cup tie with West Ham.
Town’s line-up, as in every minute of League One this season, contained Toto Nsiala as the defender made selection despite an early pre-game warm-up with physio Chris Skitt.
The Ewood Park clash had caught the imagination of Salopians, with more than 1,000 tickets sold by Friday and hundreds more expected to travel on the day.
Hurst and Co. were aware that three points in Lancashire could put an eight point gap to the in-form Rovers.
Tony Mowbray’s side, making five changes from their last game - an FA Cup defeat against Hull - and two changes from their last league encounter, were the division’s flying side before a ball was kicked.
Fourteen league games unbeaten was one shy of the record Town reached at the start of the season.
The travelling blue and amber army were in the mood to make some noise as kick-off approached. Rovers did their best to silence the boisterous away end as Danny Graham spun and shot but Dean Henderson claimed well.
The hosts seized the initiative. Henderson was forced into a save right from the top drawer after an Omar Beckles deflection dropped to the dangerous Bradley Dack inside the area. The midfielder hit it crisp, but Town’s shot-stopper flew to his right for a one-handed save.
Blackburn’s pressure kept coming. Ironically the telling moment came from a Town attacking raid. The home side broke, Dack released Dominic Samuel on the right and Beckles tangled with the attacker, halting his progresses.
Beckles survived with a red but Mulgrew did the damage.The cultured defender curling in his 10th goal of the season from 25 yards and in off the post and Henderson.
Town’s makeshift left-back was given a tough time and Rovers sensed blood. Beckles was lucky to stay on the pitch as he held back Samuels on the turn. It was very much his final warning, inside half hour.
Hurst’s men were looking for a spark as passes went astray and they struggled to get a foothold into the contest.
Shrewsbury built up their first head of steam soon after. Better interplay, particularly down the left, helped Beckles’ confidence and the visitors grew as a unit.
Alex Rodman stabbed a shot wide before Town’s equaliser. Following a sustained period of pressure, Abu Ogogo lifted a ball down the inside right of the box for Carlton Morris to chase.
The front man showed his burst of speed to beat keeper David Raya to the ball and was sent flying. Referee Mr Brooks had no hesitation to point to the spot.
Shaun Whalley passed responsibility on to Jon Nolan and the midfielder coolly slotted in his sixth goal of the season.
Heavy boos descended on Ewood Park at the decision.
Shrews were now finding promising positions with ease but unable to call Raya into any more action.
Graham hung in the air superbly to flash a header wide for the hosts, who lost some of their early vigour.
The second period proved an open affair before the hour mark, as Nolan and Whalley both passed up presentable openings as Town broke.
Paul Downing’s close-range strike was ruled out by the officials before the pendulum swung the way of the former top flight champions.
Dack’s fine angled volley cannoned the post and experienced frontman Graham gobbled up from six yards out.
The momentum was with Blackburn and Henderson worked wonders to stop an Adam Armstrong effort from squirming beyond him.
But with 20 minutes left the clash was almost beyond Hurst’s men. Referee Brooks pointed to the spot, following some deliberation, after Henderson was judged to have brought down the onrushing Samuel.
Mulgrew tucked away from 12 yards with ease. Unsavoury moments followed as Henderson reacted angrily to bottles and other objects being thrown his way from the Rovers fans.
To their credit, Shrewsbury did not cave in and continued to battle and attempt to create despite the feeling that the spoils were beyond them.
Town go on to the London Stadium for a West Ham date in the FA Cup on Tuesday full of spirit despite a rare league defeat.
8 - Stunning one-handed Dean Henderson save to deny Bradley Dack inside the box.
14 - Goal Blackburn. Charlie Mulgrew curls a delightful free-kick in off the right post from 25-yards. Henderson was inches from it. Perfect strike. A tenth of the season for the defender.
26 - Omar Beckles, already cautioned before Rovers’ goal, is fortunate to escape a second yellow after pulling back Dominic Samuel.
32 - Town’s first effort on goal is stabbed wide by Alex Rodman on the edge of the box after decent approach play down the left.
34 - Shrewsbury penalty. Abu Ogogo releases Carlton Morris and the frontman is sent down by David Raya. It was difficult to see if the keeper reached the ball first.
34 - Shrews goal!!! Jon Nolan takes over penalty duty from Shaun Whalley and coolly slots it to the keeper’s left.
40 - Danny Graham is unlucky to see a header drop wide after he climbed superbly to meet Craig Conway’s cross.
49 - Nolan can only shoot tamely wide after Morris bursts away down the left flank - Town had a three-on-two attack but could not take advantage.
51 - The hosts almost re-take the lead. Paul Downing smashes in at the back post and the crowd celebrate, only for the officials to see a push and rule it out.
61 - Rovers goal. Dack profits from a deflected clearance inside Town’s box by thumping a delicious angled volley off the post. Graham is on hand to turn in the rebound.
65 - Debut sub Adam Armstrong should score. Unmarked and fires a cut-back straight at Henderson, who almost lets it beyond him but keeps it from the line.
68 - Rovers pen as Henderson clips Samuels after the striker had tried to lob Town’s keeper.
70 - Blackburn goal. Mulgrew tucks it away with ease.
Blackburn Rovers (4-2-3-1):
Raya; Nyambe, Mulgrew ©, Downing, Williams; Bennett, Smallwood, Dack, Conway (Armstrong, 61); Samuel (Travis, 85), Graham (Nuttall, 82)
Subs not used: Leutwiler (gk), Ward, Caddis, Tomlinson.
Shrewsbury Town (4-2-3-1):
Henderson; Bolton, Nsiala, Sadler, Beckles (Lowe, 73); Godfrey (Payne, 75); Whalley, Ogogo ©, Nolan, Rodman; C Morris (John-Lewis, 81)
Subs not used: MacGillivray (gk), Hendrie, B Morris, Dodds.
Referee: John Brooks
Attendance: 13,579 (1,387 Shrewsbury fans)
Position in the table
2nd (54 points from 26 games)
Star man - Ben Godfrey. Battled on throughout.