ROVERS THE BEST AS FANS PROTEST

The Football League Paper - - FA CUP FOURTH ROUND - By John McDougall

BLACK­BURN boss Owen Coyle in­sists his side must fo­cus on mat­ters on the pitch af­ter Rovers fans joined their Black­pool coun­ter­parts in protest­ing against their re­spec­tive own­ers be­fore this vic­tory.

Sam Gal­lagher’s header and El­liott Ben­nett’s thun­der­bolt se­cured Rovers’ pas­sage into the fifth round, eased by Black­pool mid­fielder Kelvin Mellor col­lect­ing two yel­low cards in less than five sec­ond-half min­utes.

Sup­port­ers from both clubs protested out­side Ewood Park be­fore the game, and Coyle praised his side for not al­low­ing it dis­tract them.

“The stuff out­side, that’s an un­con­trol­lable,” he said. “All we can do is try to con­trol the stuff on the field and we did that very well. That’s what we need to fo­cus on.

“We’re not naive. We cer­tainly un­der­stand [the sit­u­a­tion], but that’s not con­trol­lable for us so we can just try to make the best of what we do.

“It was im­por­tant we started re­ally well. We con­trolled the game from the first whis­tle and scored two won­der­ful goals.

“We all un­der­stand cup com­pe­ti­tions and it was al­ways go­ing to be a dan­ger­ous tie.”

Rovers took a ninth-minute lead when Ja­son Lowe’s cross was met by Gal­lagher, who headed past an on­rush­ing Sam Slo­combe into an empty net.

The Cham­pi­onship side dou­bled their lead in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion through Ben­nett, who un­leashed a pow­er­ful, dip­ping 22nd-minute shot from 30 yards which flew past Slo­combe.

Tan­ger­ines mid­fielder Jack Payne nearly em­u­lated Ben­nett with his own long-range ef­fort be­fore the half-hour but his pow­er­ful shot rose just over Ja­son Steele’s goal.

Black­pool thought they had pulled one back when Tom Al­dred headed Payne’s free-kick past Steele in the 32nd minute but it was chalked off for off­side.

Jim McAlis­ter could have halved the deficit in first-half stop­page time af­ter meet­ing Andy Tay­lor’s curl­ing cross, but he headed wide.

Mellor was dis­missed by ref­eree Peter Bankes for a rash 64th-minute chal­lenge on Hope Ak­pan and a sec­ond book­ing mo­ments after­wards for a tackle on Craig Con­way.

The lively Ben­nett darted down the right flank and teed up Gal­lagher in the 70th minute, but the low ef­fort was claimed by Slo­combe.

The ten men should have grabbed one back but Will Aim­son headed Clark Robert­son’s cross against the bar in the 72nd minute.

Gal­lagher knocked down Con­nor Ma­honey’s cross for Der­rick Wil­liams who drew a good save from Slo­combe as Rovers pro­gressed two min­utes from time.

Tan­ger­ines man­ager Gary Bowyer, re­turn­ing to Ewood Park for the first time since be­ing sacked in Novem­ber 2015, branded Mellor’s dis­missal as the turn­ing point.

“The game changes re­ally on the send­ing off, but credit to our lads down to ten men,” he said.

“The key mo­ment ob­vi­ously was when the lad heads it against the bar and if that dropped in and it was 2-1, then it would have been re­ally in­ter­est­ing.

“Full praise to our lot, they kept go­ing, they didn’t cave in and we now go and fo­cus on the league and take the pos­i­tives from this and put that into it.

“The fine mar­gins have gone against us a bit. It’s a won­der-strike and we find our­selves 2-0 down but they kept go­ing.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

HEADS I WIN: Sam Gal­lagher leaps to put Black­burn in front and, in­set, turns to cel­e­brate

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