- City pick up vital point at Blackburn
- Abraham opener cancelled out by Gallagher
- City stay four points clear of hosts Rovers
Mark Perrow reports from Ewood Park
City picked up a vital share of the spoils on the road to ensure fellow strugglers Blackburn Rovers remain four points adrift of themselves with just three games to play.
In truth it was a game the visitors looked like wining comfortably after Tammy Abraham’s early opener led to a one-sided first 70 minutes.
But Sam Gallagher equalised for Rovers to completely transform the game and inject new life into a previously subdued home team, who pushed hard for a winner but could not find it.
Lee Johnson named the same starting XI and substitutes for the third game running after the impressive home victories over Wolves and QPR.
Whilst a draw may have been considered a satisfactory result to keep the hosts four points below them in the Sky Bet Championship table, Johnson had promised not to play for a point and City’s approach reflected that.
His team enjoyed plenty of possession early on, with Abraham threatening to latch on to one ball over the top even before doing so to deadly effect after 14 minutes.
City’s patient approach play lulled Rovers into a false sense of security. Matty Taylor dropped short to collect a pass from Marlon Pack, laying the ball off for Jamie Paterson to chip one over the defence.
Off went Abraham – so often the quickest to react – who raced through almost beyond the ball, prompting the striker to improvise with a clever backflick as keeper David Raya watched on as the ball rolled into the unguarded net behind him.
City continued to boss the possession, but now the ball was zipping about with even more purpose as Paterson and Korey Smith both hit shots from distance that Raya did well to hold.
Such was the visitors’ level of control, the game was largely devoid of goalmouth action and Abraham was left aggrieved when he was not awarded a free kick after being blocked off on the 18-yard line.
But City’s top scorer was soon taking his frustration out on himself when another chance fell his way. Twice Blackburn failed to clear, secondly when Paterson helped the ball back into the mix, before Abraham lashed the dropping ball high over the bar on the volley from 15 yards.
The response of home boss Tony Mowbray was to make a double substitution at half-time – a sure-fire sign he was far from happy with his side and a compliment to how well City were going about the task in hand.
But the changes did little to wrestle the momentum in Rovers’ favour as instead City set about killing the game.
Ashton Gate old boy Derrick Williams was having a tough time. First Josh Brownhill left him in his wake, lifting the ball over his head and rounding him to pick out Taylor, who had to hit the target but blazed over from eight yards.
Then Little beat his former team-mate with a similar run, before Brownhill surged down the same flank and picked out Paterson, whose low cross saw Abraham denied by a flying save from Raya.
The chances kept coming, with Brownhill next to be thwarted by Raya. After great hold-up play by Abraham, his lay-off was only met by a tame left-footed shot easily gathered by the Spaniard.
By now Mowbray had three giant centre-forwards on the pitch in the shape of Lucas Joao, Marvin Emnes and Gallagher.
There must have been concerns that City would regret so many missed opportunities and it was Gallagher who made them pay with an equalising goal totally against the run of play.
Peeling away to the far post, the Southampton loanee met Elliott Bennett’s floated cross with a perfectly placed header back across the stranded Frank Fielding, who could only stand and watch it nestle inside the far post.
Suddenly the home crowd was buoyant. Johnson introduced Callum O’Dowda and David Cotterill for Paterson and Little in an attempt to diffuse the situation, with Smith dropping into the right-back position.
But Blackburn’s tails were up and Jason Lowe’s dipping strike only just flashed wide, before Emnes found Gallagher in the area and City uncomfortably scrambled the ball away.
An injury to substitute Aaron Wilbraham ensured four added minutes turned into six and a half, but City weathered the storm to ensure priceless point in the survival race.