Roger Johnson does salvage job on Dean Saunders’ opening night as Wolves manager

Wolves 1 Blackburn Rovers 1


Michael Appleton was not at Molineux last night, but Blackburn Rovers’ new manager may take more satisfaction from this match, and result, than Dean Saunders, present and overseeing his first game in charge at Wolves.

Appleton will surely feel he has a better chance of guiding Rovers back in to the Premier League than Saunders has with Wolves. The result leaves the Lancashire club four points short of a play-off place, but in a match that  generally lacked quality, there was a sense of solidity and confidence about their football which Wolves patently, and at times painfully, lacked.

Unsurprisingly, given Wolves came into the game on a run of four defeats, Saunders made a number of changes, in personnel and positionally. Ronald Zubar made his first start since October at full-back, David Davis came into midfield,  and there was a first start for 19-year-old Wales Under-21 international striker Jake Cassidy, who has spent much of the last two seasons on loan at Tranmere.

Rovers’ caretaker manager Gary Bowyer brought in Chelsea loanee Todd Kane to replace the injured Adam Henley at right-back, with Simon Vukcevic coming into midfield.

Having demanded his players show the supporters they meant business from the off, Saunders watched his team start positively, and centre-half Roger Johnson, still in the penalty area after coming up for a corner only half-cleared, volleyed the subsequent low cross only a couple of feet wide.

Bakary Sako, clearly under instruction to give Wolves lots of width on the left, saw plenty of the ball, but the Frenchman’s delivery was initially disappointing. When he did finally pull the ball back low and hard from the byline, Kevin Doyle’s touch brought a fine save from young Rovers’ goalkeeper Jake Kean.

Rovers had barely had an attack – a hopeful punt forward which striker Jordan Rhodes almost guided past Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, a rare threat – when after 26 minutes they took the lead. There was contact, but Ruben Rochina’s fall as Sako attempted to tackle the Spanish midfielder in the Wolves penalty area looked theatrical, and referee Dean Whitestone had not reacted when his assistant signalled the penalty. Rhodes converted, his 14th League goal of the season.

The Wolves reaction was generally unimpressive and it took a fine diving save from Ikeme to prevent Rochina putting the visitors two up shortly after half-time. Wolves’ main threat was coming from set-pieces, and Johnson looped a header from a free-kick on to the top of Kean’s goal shortly before Davis produced a cross which Zubar reached ahead  of Grant Hanley, but failed to keep his header down.

Saunders made changes, and his second had an immediate impact. Jamie O’Hara’s first touch was a long diagonal cross into the box, and Johnson, coming in at the far post, headed the ball down and into the net. The defending, given the distance from which the ball had been delivered, was poor.

Urged on by their supporters Wolves pressed for a winner, but chances remained few. Doyle’s touch let him down when Sako produced a dangerous cross with five minutes remaining, but Appleton will not have been particularly happy with the way his side sat back and settled for the draw.

Saunders, who has promised to play entertaining football after becoming Wolves’ fourth manager in less than 12 months, will now have a much better idea of the size of the task he has taken on.

His players did not lack energy, but ideas were singularly absent.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Ikeme;  Zubar (Peszko, 67), Johnson, Berra, Ward;  Foley, Henry, Davis (O’Hara, 74) Sako: Doyle, Cassidy (Ebanks-Blake, 79).  Substitutes not used: Stearman, Batth, Forde, De Vries.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Kean; Kane, Dann, Hanley (Givet, 81), Martin Olsson; Vukcevic (Pedersen, 56), Lowe, Murphy, Rochina (Morris, 80); Kazim-Richards, Rhodes. Substitutes not used: Usai, Nuno Gomes, Goodwillie, Rosado.

Referee: D Whitestone. (Northamptonshire)

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