Blackburn revived their ailing hopes of reaching the Championship play-offs with a dominant 4-1 win over Preston at Deepdale.
Victory in the Lancashire derby comes after a run of one win in nine, which left the top-six hopes of Tony Mowbray’s men hanging by a thread.
Rovers climb from ninth to seventh in the table as a result, three points behind Sheffield United, who occupy the last available play-off berth heading into the final two rounds of fixtures. Preston stay 15th.
Sam Gallagher headed Blackburn ahead (9) and John Buckley then doubled the lead with a low drive (12), before Alan Browne lashed in to halve the deficit for the hosts (29).
A header from Darragh Lenihan restored the two-goal lead before the half-time whistle (37) and shortly after the restart, Lewis Travis guided in a fourth after good work from Ben Brereton Diaz (52) to cap a memorable night.
Blackburn’s remaining fixtures
- Bournemouth (H) – Saturday April 30, 3pm
- Birmingham (A) – Saturday May 7, 12.30pm
How Blackburn thrived under pressure on derby day
Given their blistering form throughout much of the first half of the season, a play-off spot had looked to be a certainty for Blackburn, before a disastrous first quarter of 2022 – during which they had won just four of their 19 league games and scored 10 goals along the way – left their hopes hanging by a thread.
The fact that a gap of six points separated them from the top six ahead of the trip to their near neighbours meant that victory was imperative. And it soon became clear the form book was about to be thrown out of the window.
Gallagher got Rovers up and running after less than 10 minutes when he sent a diving header in after Brereton Diaz’s looping header had ricocheted back off the post and 192 seconds later, Buckley made it two with a low drive that caught North End goalkeeper Daniel Iversen by surprise.
A rare, sweeping attack from Preston ended in success, when skipper Browne lashed home via a wicked deflection off Scott Wharton, but Blackburn’s anxiety was remedied when Lenihan’s scored with a towering header after a set-piece routine straight off the training ground.
Preston returned to the pitch with good intentions, but soon found themselves with an unassailable task. Brereton Diaz worked the ball out of trouble in midfield and then managed to thread the ball through to Travis, who took a series of touches before passing the ball into the net.
Rovers stopper Thomas Kaminski was called into action with just over 20 minutes to play, when he showed excellent reactions to deny the largely anonymous Emil Riis at point-blank range and after, at the other end, Brereton Diaz headed onto the top of the crossbar, that was the way the game ended.
Man of the match – John Buckley
Don Goodman on Sky Sports Football:
“He scored that brilliant second goal for Blackburn, but I thought his all-round contribution, including his tackling and passing, was excellent.”
What the managers said…
Preston’s Ryan Lowe: “We weren’t on the front foot, we were too slow at passing the ball, they jumped all over us, they were more aggressive and they were worthy of their goals. You can’t give any team in this division three goals for a start and we’ve done that on a couple of occasions. It hasn’t been often, but it’s disappointing to lose a derby in that way.
“I’ve got belief in the group, but you can’t keep giving teams opportunities and you can’t keep clawing back twos and threes – it doesn’t work. That’s what I’m disappointed about. It’s hurting at the moment and the fans are hurting probably. We want to bring the good times back to this football club, but performances like that won’t.
“I said to the group in there, it’s now about the here and now, it’s about what I want to do in the future. But they’ve got to get their heads up and get on the journey we are trying to take the football club on and they have got to buy into everything we are doing. I must say they have done for large parts of the season, but the last couple of games haven’t warranted what I want. The standards have slipped.”
Blackburn’s Tony Mowbray: “Even in the early season, when we were building towards second and winning by fours and fives, I’m not sure we were as controlled as we were tonight. It was almost as if a bit of pressure has come off them and they just went and played.
“I keep saying to them that they have to learn how to play under pressure – that’s part of the growing process of becoming a footballer – and yet, the majority of them are 21, 22, 23 years old. They are not 27, 28 and haven’t been through the journey yet. It’s good that they have to learn how to play with expectation and not burden them. Tonight there was no burden and they relaxed and played into the game.
“Our aim is to win the next two games. Obviously, Bournemouth is a big ask because they have got their own battle to finish in the top two. We know that Scotty [Parker] will have them all revved up on Saturday and they are a very talented group of players. We went to Bournemouth earlier in the season and won 2-0, so it is doable for us. We have to get to the levels we managed to find tonight and make sure they know they are in a real football match.”
Both teams are back in action on Saturday April 30. Preston travel to Oakwell to take on Barnsley at 12.30pm, while Blackburn face Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium at 3pm.