Blackburn Rovers 0, Stoke City 0
It might feel like two points dropped right now, what with so many relegation rivals gaining ground this week, but in the final outcome it could turn out to be one point gained.
Neither side did quite enough to deserve all three points, despite a fair sprinkling of chances, and so Stoke’s hopes of equalling a club record of four successive league wins at Ewood will have to wait for another decade or two.
But they will be buoyed by a second successive clean sheet as they head towards the business end of a season accommodating far worse nights than this.
Michael O’Neill sent out a Stoke side showing one change after he decided James Chester needed a break – following an intense run of matches since joining from Aston Villa – and his place went to 18 year-old Nathan Collins for his first league start since August 24 at home to Leeds.
City’s pre-match game plan would have dwelt long and hard on the name of Adam Armstrong – six goals in nine appearances – and he was soon to the fore with a wee twist and shot that was spilled by Jack Butland for Joe Rothwell to tuck away from close range.
His celebrations were short-lived, however, as an offside flag left Stoke, and not least Butland, breathing a sizeable sigh of relief.
Armstrong was a measure for Tyrese Campbell’s current progress and it wasn’t long before the young Stoke striker was trying his luck with a similar effort which the Blackburn keeper was able to grab and hold.
Stoke’s hardy support of 861 was confined to the Gods somewhat in the upper tier behind Butland’s goal, but that didn’t prevent them making their presence felt as the game tried to settle into some kind of pattern.
The home crowd, apparently unconvinced by Blackburn’s play-off pretensions, were showing more enthusiasm for Ryan Nambe’s wicked effort which had Butland flying through the air to ensure the ball by-passed his far right-hand post.
The quality on offer was varied, in truth, and Nick Powell was certainly worthier of a better effort than a long-ranger into the sparsely-populated home end.
Collins was bearing up defensively, meanwhile, but only after a second sigh of relief in the Stoke ranks when big Sam Gallagher nodded down a long ball for the unmarked Rothwell to steer over under pressure from the encroaching Butland just after the quarter-hour mark.
Chances were certainly growing in quality as Jordan Thompson’s in-swinging corner was missed by Nick Powell as a close-range header, and possible goal, beckoned the City playmaker.
The game was growing on the paying spectators as Stoke, giving as good as they were getting, threatened through Powell and Sam Clucas to prise open the home defence.
The action remained competitive rather than spectacular as a diving header from Collins cleared Stoke’s lines and did no harm to the teenager’s confidence.
As the first half wore on the visitors produced their best interplay thus far as Tom Ince and Tommy Smith combined to leave Powell deftly curling one wide of the far post.
The second 45 began with high expectations in both camps and Blackburn’s appeared the more justified when Gallagher was left scurrying through on goal, but after stretching and poking goalwards he saw the approaching Butland thrust up a hand to divert clear superbly.
Gallagher was prominent again 90 seconds later when combining with Armstrong for the latter to screech a low shot past Butland and his far post.
Stoke, needing a response, saw the lively Powell fouled yet again as the game continued to promise more than it could deliver.
Butland was remaining the more active of the two keepers and proved the point when diving low to prevent Armstrong embarrassing him at his near post, but it wasn’t long before Christian Walton was doing likewise at the other end to thwart Campbell’s attempt to beat him with a low shot.
A disputed free-kick then spelt danger for the visitors, but in keeping with the game Stewart Downing’s effort brushed off the wall for a corner which was brilliantly cleared by Danny Batth’s increasingly prominent forehead.
Tension was mounting past the hour mark as Stoke tried, and largely failed, to involve Campbell more, leaving him an early casualty as Lee Gregory replaced him for the final 20 or so.
A rare flash of skill from Gallagher left him driving fiercely into the box, but once again Batth’s head was equal to the danger and the game remained scoreless.
The points remained up for grabs inside the final 10 minutes, but neither side possessed that touch of quality, or ghastly error, to break the deadlock.