Subtitutes make the difference as Blackburn move up to eighth in the Championship


Any manager worth their salt won’t be afraid to make a change if the match isn’t quite going as they wanted. However, it takes a large amount of bravery to make a quadruple substitution and reshape your attack with thirty minutes still to play.

Blackburn were chugging along against Luton and while they were far from awful, Simon Sluga was having next to nothing to do in the Hatters goal, aside from a tame Adam Armstrong effort.

Tony Mowbray had seen enough and called for reinforcements. Much to the surprise of everyone in the ground, four players completed their warm-ups and threw the tracksuit tops off, ready to try and swing the points in Blackburn’s favour.

Lewis Holtby, Bradley Dack, Sam Gallagher and Tyrhys Dolan came on to replace Stewart Downing, Joe Rothwell, Ben Brereton and Harvey Elliott. It was a bold move but ultimately it paid off.

Downing and Brereton weren’t having much influence on proceedings with Brereton struggling to get anything as Sonny Bradley and Tom Lockyer kept him at bay.

Blackburn’s number six was mainly on set piece duty but his delivery was a touch off for someone of his quality and he was having little joy dictating play from deep.

Rothwell and Elliott could have considered themselves more unlucky to be taken off. Both were lively especially in the first half before struggling at the beginning of the second period as Rovers struggled for fluency.

The Blue and Whites midfielder started very well, winning a corner after a soft, cushioned touch into the box. He lined up in a box to box role in midfield but found himself drifting to the left and finding plenty of space.

Unfortunately, he was struggling to get the better of full-back Matty Pearson and was shrugged off the ball too easily on a couple of occasions. The midfielder then found some joy by coming deep to win the ball back and springing counter attacks.

Elliott was even brighter again and was probably Blackburn’s best player in the first half. The Liverpool loanee was playing in a free role in a very fluid attack and was roaming all over the park, even chipping in with some good defensive clearances.

The teenager’s first touch was sensational at times and once allowed him to run at the Hatters defence before curling his shot over the crossbar. The interval probably came at the wrong time as the young man struggled for the same amount of space and prompted Mowbray to change it up.

It was a gamble of sorts but one that paid off handsomely as the substitutes really did inject a lot more life into the game. Holtby pressed high instantly and won a free-kick, which Dack blasted over but it was an encouraging sign.

The German international was the key to Blackburn’s improvement, occupying the deep-lying role that Downing had been struggling to use to good effect in the first half. He was getting on the ball a lot more and snapping into tackles, trying to negate the influence of the impressive Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall.

Holtby continuously tried to find Dolan, who stationed himself on the left-wing and constantly ran at a tiring Luton defence. The 19-year-old was full of skill and energy and could have had a goal himself if it wasn’t for a wonderful block from Martin Cranie.

Gallagher was arguably the quietest of the quartet but made an impact by laying the ball on a plate for Armstrong’s winner. Holtby took a drop ball from the referee and the Luton defence switched off as he found the number nine who peeled off to the back post and headed back across the box to allow the Championship’s second-highest goalscorer to nod home.

It was a game of fine margins and the good work of the substitutes would have ended up irrelevant as Barry Douglas’ clearance off the line denied Luton a certain goal.

One gamble Mowbray wasn’t willing to take was replacing one of the league’s top scorers in Armstrong and the Geordie hitman repaid that faith with his 17th goal of the season. You can change up your supply line all you like but don’t replace the man having the season of his life.

Blackburn took full advantage of Bournemouth’s defeat to Reading and now find themselves just three points outside the Play-Off picture. This was the perfect launchpad to push on and get back to the top flight for the first time since 2012. Mowbray has shown flexibility and is willing to change it up when it isn’t working and that could be difference.

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