Hoever double helps Stoke dent Rovers promotion bid
Blackburn Rovers’ hopes of automatic promotion from the Championship took a hit as Stoke City made it eight goals in two games to secure back-to-back wins for only the second time this season.
The Potters, 5-1 winners at Sunderland last weekend, stormed into a 3-0 lead before Rovers staged a late fightback, scoring twice in the final four minutes.
On-loan Wolves wing-back Ki-Jana Hoever’s first-half double, supplemented by Tyrese Campbell’s second-half strike, looked to have comfortably secured all three points.
But Blackburn substitute Ben Brereton Diaz headed home in the 86th minute and Sam Gallagher nodded in another four minutes later – and the frantic Stoke supporters had to survive five minutes of added time before being sure of all three points.
Rovers remain fourth in the table, nine points behind Sheffield United in second, when victory would have taken them third before the rest of the weekend’s programme.
Stoke had already wasted one great chance before they scored, when Will Smallbone smacked a ferocious angled right-foot shot against the bar from 12 yards after being played in by Campbell.
But, on 24 minutes, Dwight Gayle whipped in a useful cross from the left – and an unmarked Hoever arrived at the far post to finish well.
Stoke might then have had a penalty when Smallbone was upended in the box by Dom Hyam. But, having survived that, Rovers did not hold out for much longer.
When Smallbone’s low shot was saved by Aynsley Pears, and Rovers failed to clear their lines sufficiently, Josh Laurent curled a dipping right-foot cross in from the left and Hoever stole in behind the dozing Tyrhys Dolan to head home.
Stoke should have added to their two-goal half-time lead after they ripped open the Rovers defence down the left and, when the ball cannoned back into his path off Hayden Carter, Smallbone lashed a left-foot shot over.
But the hosts, who had only previously won successive league games this season back in October, appeared to have made the game safe when Laurent barged and weaved his way through lamentable defending down the left to set up Campbell’s low left-foot finish.
Rovers got one back when Brereton Diaz headed home fellow substitute Callum Brittain’s cross, but it seemed too little, too late.
But it became panic stations in the Potteries when Gallagher headed in the far post. And, although there was delight at ending Rovers’ four-game winning run in the league, there was more than a little relief too.
Stoke are back in action on Tuesday when they face a trip to second-placed Middlesbrough.
Blackburn’s next game is the following night when they host former Rovers boss Paul Ince’s Reading.
Stoke boss Alex Neil told BBC Radio Stoke:
“It was a very disappointing finish as, up until the 80th minute, we had been very comfortable. But it was then suddenly ‘game on’ for the last few minutes and it had no right to be.
“But that shouldn’t take anything away from the first-half performance. We could have been more goals ahead – and should have been too. We’ve a lot of positives to take from this. We’ve got a really good balance about us.
“Hoever is very attack-minded, he wants to gets in at the back post. He has great athleticism and he used it great effect.”
Blackburn Rovers boss Jon Dahl Tomasson:
“We were poor on the ball in the first half, but the players showed great character to come back.
“We’ve had a great run so far in 2023. That is only the second game we have lost, but we always knew there would be ups and downs.”