While it is hard to say that Joe Rafferty’s red card and the penalty that followed was the sole turning point in Blackburn’s 3-0 win over local rivals Preston at Deepdale, it certainly played a big point in it.
Rovers had enjoyed the vast majority of chances and territory prior to Rafferty’s dismissal on the stroke of half time here, the full-back’s decision to bring down Sam Gallagher inside the area did gift Rovers the chance to take the lead in this one, and lift the pressure for them to take their chances and secure all three points in the second half.
Despite the continued absence of crowds for the time being, both sides will still have well aware of the importance of this match given the rivalry between the two sides going into this one.
That is something that rather showed early, with little in the way of chances for either – save for an effort from distance from Blackburn’s Ben Brereton that drifted well wide – as both tried to size each other in the opening quarter of an hour.
The first real chance would come around the 20-minute mark. Preston could only half clear a Barry Douglas free kick from the right, which allowed Joe Rothwell to find Darragh Lenihan just inside the area, but after his effort was beaten away by Preston ‘keeper Declan Rudd, Adam Armstrong saw his effort blocked away to safety.
Although they were not forthcoming, the chances would continue to come largely Rovers’ way, Adam Armstrong flashed an effort from 20 yards on the half-hour mark, before being denied by a brilliant block from Patrick Bauer after an outstanding ball from Ryan Nyambe ten minutes later.
From the resulting corner, Blackburn were able to work the ball to Brereton on the far side of the penalty area through Rothwell, but his fizzing ball across the face of goal somehow evaded a huge group of bodies in the six-yard box, when a touch from anyone would surely have made it 1-0 to the visitors.
That would however, become the scoreline right on the stroke of half time. Less than a minute after Daniel Johnson had had Preston’s best chance of the half with two efforts blocked inside the Rovers area, the visitors were able to set Sam Gallagher away, with the striker producing a brilliant run to out-pace North End full back Joe Rafferty, who could only bring his man down inside the area.
Referee Tony Harrington duly pointed to the spot and showed the red card to the Preston man, before Armstrong stepped up to drill the penalty beyond Rudd into the bottom left-hand corner, and hand Rovers the lead at the interval.
With Preston looking for a way back into the game quickly after the break, it was they who had the first opportunity of the second half, as Tom Barkhuizen fired an effort narrowly wide of the far post from the edge of the area not long after the break.
But just as they had late in the first half, Rovers responded to a Preston chance with a goal of their own.
Picking up the ball on the halfway line, Rothwell produced what is fast becoming a trademark run into the penalty area, before laying the ball off for Brereton to roll it pas Rudd to make it 2-0 with his third of the season, more than in his past two campaign with the club combined.
After that, the man and two-goal advantage meant that Rovers were free to take their time in the game and toy with their opponents, with Sam Gallagher dragging wide from the edge of the area after one particularly impressive move.
Rovers would eventually get their third with around 15 minutes remaining, Brereton turning provider this time, breaking down the right before providing a perfect cross to the back post, where 18-year-old substitute Tyhrys Dolan – who was released by Preston earlier this summer – to tap home his third goal of the season, before celebrating with some spectacular acrobatics against his former club.
With that, the three points were sealed, and despite worrying looking injury to Liverpool loanee Harvey Elliott not long after he came off the bench, Rovers boss Tony Mowbray will be generally be immensely pleased with his side’s ability to take their chances when needed, and then see the game out, to return to the top half of the Championship table, and a seven-game wait for victory over their local rivals.