Sunday 21 January 2018

King reigns as Rovers progress at Stoke's expense

Blackburn Rovers 4 Stoke City1

Joshua King celebrates scoring Blackburn's teams second goal
Joshua King celebrates scoring Blackburn's teams second goal
Blackburn Rovers Josh King scores against Stoke City during their FA Cup fifth round match at Ewood Park
Blackburn Rovers Rudy Gestede scores past Stoke City goalie Jack Butland
Stoke City's Geoff Cameron is sent off during the FA Cup fifth round match at Ewood Park
Stoke City's Peter Crouch celebrates scoring the opening goal of the match

Tim Rich

There are some of Alex Ferguson's hunches that are never going to pay off. Bebe is unlikely to prove why Manchester United thought a footballer from the Portuguese third division might be worth £7.5m of their money. Anderson, we can safely say, will never become the Brazilian Roy Keane.

As he destroyed and tormented a Stoke side that appeared predestined for the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, you could imagine what the old dictator saw in Josh King, who scored one of the more remarkable hat-tricks in the competition's history.

King is not one of the game's natural goalscorers. Before this, he had only managed seven in a career that began in Norway with Valerenga and taken in Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester United, for whom he did not make a senior appearance.

King is still only 23 and the men who managed him all knew he possessed astonishing acceleration. The last two goals of his hat-trick, against a Stoke side reduced to 10 men after Geoff Cameron had been dismissed for trying to hold him back, were proof of that.

For Mark Hughes, this was an unpleasant homecoming to a club where, as a player and a manager, he had enjoyed almost unalloyed success.

Given that he had prioritised the FA Cup, defeat would have hit the Stoke manager hard, although amid the ruins of his ambitions, Hughes kept his dignity, refusing to argue the penalty and Cameron's dismissal had been unjustified.

"Blackburn executed their game plan better than we ever did," he said. "We never dealt with the pace of their front guys and I have no complaints, Blackburn were the better side."

More unpleasantly, there were disturbances in the Darwen End crammed with supporters from the Potteries. On the pitch, Ben Marshall broke down after a couple of minutes and was taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder. Stoke's Steven Nzonzi had his head bandaged after a collision. As Valentine's Days go, it was a brutal one.

If the young Mark Hughes ever got love letters, few of those would have given him quite as much encouragement as the Blackburn team sheet that showed eight changes from the side that had beaten Rotherham in midweek.

When Hughes ran Ewood Park, Gary Bowyer managed Blackburn's under 18 squad and for Bowyer to put out what seemed a reserve team against Stoke, who goalkeeper Jack Butland apart were at full strength, appeared a remarkable act of deference.

The noise came from the Stoke supporters and when Peter Crouch's long legs slid the ball home through a phalanx of players, this seemed a cup tie whose result was foretold. And then Blackburn began fighting. Marshall's removal meant King was pushed up into attack alongside Rudy Gestede and suddenly became unplayable. His first contribution was to send a shot against the crossbar when it appeared easier to score. His second was to intercept Shane Duffy's header just in front of Butland and steer it into the net.

On the Stoke bench the equaliser must have seemed an irritant to a side that might by now have scored three times but it proved a reverse they never came to terms with and when Cameron dragged King back in the eight minutes of first-half stoppage time Gestede calmly rolled the penalty home.

Bowyer remarked the only problem he had with King was: "He drives a car that's too fast for him." He was far too quick for Marc Muniesa, whose hamstring gave way as he pursued him but the finish, between Butland's legs, was lethal. Five minutes later came another breakaway, another fabulously precise finish and the FA Cup's casualty list had been extended still further.

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