It can sometimes be argued that games in the opening round of the cups are no-win situations for Championship sides facing lower-league opposition: win, and you’re expected to do so anyway, lose, and you’ve messed up big time.
For Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night, this was certainly not the case. After two defeats from two in their opening games of the league season, Tony Mowbray’s side find themselves rooted to the bottom of the early Championship table, with no points and just a single, own goal, to their name.
This, therefore, felt like a big opportunity for Blackburn to pick up some much-needed momentum, although it was one they very nearly failed to take, with the Championship side needing two stoppage time goals to come from behind and eliminate League Two Oldham, who just so happen to have started their league campaign with an identical record to their hosts tonight.
Despite that need to get off the mark this season, Mowbray still made wholesale changes to his Rovers lineup, fielding a completely different XI to the one that started that 2-0 defeat at Fulham on Saturday.
Before the match, Mowbray spoke in his programme notes about this being an opportunity for some of those yet to really feature this season to stake a claim for a starting place in league action, and that lack of game time seemed to show.
Despite plenty of possession in the opening exchanges, the hosts failed to really fashion out any clear cut chances, and they were made to pay on 13 minutes as Gevaro Nepomuceno broke down the left-hand side of the pitch, firing a pinpoint shot into the bottom far corner of Jayson Leuwtiler’s goal to give Oldham the lead.
After a few moments seemingly shocked by that setback, it did seem as though the goal eventually brought Rovers to life.
Oldham ‘keeper Woods saved well as the ball dropped to Corry Evans inside the Oldham area after both Buckley and Brereton missed a delicious ball in from Downing. Moments later, Brereton did connect with a Downing cross, but his tame header dropped just wide of the right-hand post.
The visitors did, however, continue to threaten, with Missilou heading just wide from a corner midway through the half, and it was the visitors who ended the opening period the brighter, with a sustained spell of pressure that Rovers only really ended when referee Tom Nield blew his whistle for half time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their predicament, it was Rovers who started the second half with the greater intent, and if anyone was going to make the breakthrough for the hosts, it looked as though it would be Ben Brereton.
After failing to beat the offside trap with his first run of the half, the striker then saw a diving header deflected wide, before the 19-year-old’s cross was almost diverted into his own net by Oldham defender Alex Iacovitti.
With Rovers struggling to find the breakthrough, Mowbray sent for the cavalry, with Joe Rothwell, Harry Chapman and Bradley Dack all brought on inside the first 20 minutes of the second period.
It was a move that eventually worked. After Dack’s cross was somehow headed against the post by Brereton, Rovers’ top scorer took matters into his own hands, finishing clinically inside the area to level for the hosts.
Tony Mowbray’s side then thought they had the lead, with a Rothwell free-kick headed into his own net by an Oldham defender, only for the linesman to rule it out for an infringement inside the area.
Oldham, however, were not done yet, and the League Two side threatened the shock for a second time, as Mohamed Maouche capitalised on Rovers’ failure to clear a ball into the area to smash the visitors back in the lead.
Knowing the pressure that this defeat would put them under, and after Dack had one saved by Woods before putting another wide, it was a Rovers new boy who came to the club’s rescue.
Two minutes into six added on, a ball into the box fell to Downing on the edge of the area not once but twice, and on the second attempt he drilled low into the bottom right corner from 35 yards to level again for Tony Mowbray’s side.
At that point it seemed as though penalties were inevitable, but Blackburn still had other ideas. With the clock approaching time at a rapid pace, Rovers worked the ball into the Oldham area, where Dack showed the presence of mind to put it on a plate for fellow substitute Rothwell to save Rovers’ blushes at the death.
There was still time for Oldham to go close again, as Zak Mills fired wide from inside the area after the Latics saw appeals for handball against Ryan Nyambe waved away, and Rovers hung on for an all important first win of the season.