After 3-1 January wins in our last two FA Cup outings in 2017 and 2018, it was anything but a comfortable victory today, with a late Matt Ritchie penalty securing a replay at Ewood Park.
Given we have some tough fixtures to come against Chelsea, Spurs and City along with a vital home game with Cardiff in the league, a midweek cup replay is just about the last thing Rafa needed right now.
The first half was a pretty uninspiring affair for the 36,000 at St James’ Park. We found Blackburn’s two banks of four hard to break down, meaning the promising Longstaff struggled to get into the game as much as we’d have liked. Jacob Murphy looked completely lost and incredibly low on confidence (or quality), Woodman got nowhere near far too many crosses and seemed pretty vulnerable when pressured in the box, and then there was Joselu. He seems a top bloke and he tries his best, but you know a striker is going to struggle when they struggle to hold up the ball or finish.
On the plus side, Lejeune looked classy on his comeback and was comfortably the best player in black and white for me. Kenedy showed flashes early on when he hit his stride and started running with the ball, but his lack of vision and spacial awareness so often costs him. He needs to learn when to dribble and when to pass, but, like Murphy, he’s another who looks shot for confidence.
Ritchie saved Benitez’s blushes late on, but it really was a poor performance and a big chance missed to boost our worryingly low confidence levels at home. The likes of Muprhy, Joselu and Kenedy had a huge chance here to give something Rafa to think about and make a statement, but I’m struggling to think of one good thing they did unfortunately.
I know we made 8 changes, starting three youngsters and several players who don’t often start when everyone’s fit, but it looked like it could’ve been a Championship game when looking at both sides.
Now we face an unwanted midweek trip to Ewood Park – a game I’m not too confident of coming through given Benitez will be forced to field a very weak side against a Balckburn side who’ve lost just 2 of their last 33 at home.