While Nigel Clough is now the Championship’s longest-serving manager, Gary Bowyer was the fifth used last season alone by Blackburn Rovers, upheaval which would doubtless provoke convulsions from Derby’s board.
Clough’s mantra has always been building a workable infrastructure at Derby, while the Venky’s company in charge of Blackburn has seemed more intent on creating a circus at Ewood Park. In the authoritative and calm Bowyer, though, perhaps they have finally found the man to keep the owners happier for more than a mere few months.
Leon Best’s superb late volley – his first goal in 18 months and first for Blackburn after missing virtually the whole of last season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury – cancelled out debutant Johnny Russell’s penalty and handed Bowyer a deserved point in his first game as permanent manager.
Bowyer, who had two spells as caretaker last term, felt his side merited their late rescue act and praised the character shown by Best in returning strongly. “He [Best] has worked tremendously hard and the fact it came here, as a Nottingham lad, will make it all the more special for him,” said Bowyer.
“We started the game really well and deserved a point at least. The only way they scored against us was with a penalty and we could have had one ourselves near the end.”
Financial constraints have hit Bowyer’s transfer business – the latest example being the delay to the signing of midfielder Barry Bannan from Aston Villa – but a club with an £8m striker should not be ruled out of a promotion challenge.
Derby kept Jordan Rhodes quiet for the most part but should have been punished for a lax opening spell which allowed Ruben Rochina to wrest control for the visitors. The Spaniard screwed a glorious chance wide with five minutes gone, before summer recruit Alan Judge curled wide of the far post after cutting inside.
Blackburn lost impetus when Rochina collapsed near the touchline under an innocuous challenge just before half-time and was taken to hospital with a shoulder injury. Up to this point the Derby fans had contented themselves with berating referee Stuart Attwell at every turn; the Warwickshire official infamously disallowed two injury-time goals against arch-rivals Nottingham Forest in 2008. Yet they were soon indebted to Attwell and his linesman for a surprise lead when an Alex Marrow handball from a cross was spotted by the officials.
Russell – on this evidence a typically astute and good-value purchase from Dundee United by Clough – converted to break an embarrassing sequence of four consecutive missed penalties for Derby.
Clough played a part in the swift turnaround, having switched Russell to the wing to play three in central midfield, Chris Martin forcing Jake Kean into a desperate diving save just before half-time. Now lacking the becalming presence of Rochina, Blackburn appeared there for the taking but the home side failed to find a second goal.
In Will Hughes, Derby possess a prodigious young talent but, the 18-year-old midfielder aside, they all too often appeared frenetic with the ball, squandering possession with alarming regularity. However, Clough refused to criticise his team for relinquishing their lead.
He said: “I thought we were going to see it through but we were perhaps a little slow getting out to the cross and it was a fantastic finish. There were still lots of positives, the performances of [Jeff] Hendrick and Hughes in particular.”
Best – who joined last summer from Newcastle – had struck the post after latching on to a Tommy Spurr cross at full stretch before finally providing Blackburn the clinical edge they had lacked in brilliantly firing past Lee Grant on the turn.
Booked: Derby Coutts. Blackburn Best, Kane
Man of the match Best
Match rating 6/10
Possession: Derby 45% Blackburn 55%
Attempts on target: Derby 5 Blackburn 4
Referee S Attwell (Warks)