STEVE Kean’s bruised and battered Rovers headed back across the Pennines yesterday, hurting in mind and body after seeing the insult of defeat added to a succession of injuries.
All three substitutions by the visitors at the Stadium of Light were forced by knocks – all adding to an already lengthy injury list – and seconds before the final whistle defender Jason Lowe was stretchered off with suspected concussion.
Just as painful as the physical knocks, though, were the mental ones, with Rovers well on course for their first away win of the season, only to lose to goals scored by Sunderland in the 84th and 92nd minutes.
Had they been able to hold on for another few minutes, Kean would have been saluting back-to-back victories which would have been the perfect response to his critics and a timely way to mark a tempestuous year in charge at Ewood Park.
But in a year which has seen so many reverses, Kean said he never assumed, even after taking a 17th minute lead against Sunderland yesterday, that Rovers could feel confident of getting something from the game.
“It was tough,” the Scot said. “There were only six or seven minutes to go and we were almost there.
“When we got to the stage of the game where we were defending for our lives, we were good.
“We handled it really well, but then David Vaughan scores a fantastic goal and you’re thinking ‘oh well, at least we’ve got a point’, before, all of a sudden, they get a second at the death and we are sitting with no points, feeling absolutely gutted.
“The way we defended in the game had been excellent, given how many injuries we had and how many players were playing out of position.
“They deserve credit for that.
“We kept having to make one change after another because of players going down during the game and then, right at the end, we get another nasty injury.
“Overall, we deserved something for the way they went about such a difficult job, but it wasn’t to be.”
Kean pointed out that luck was not on Rovers’ side, with the visitors having what he thought was a fair goal disallowed at the end of the first half, while Sunderland scored their winner from a disputed handball at the end of the second.
“We felt it wasn’t a handball for the Seb Larsson free-kick,” he said. “We felt our player (Mauro Formica) handled it unintentionally.
“We also felt our second goal – where Morten Gamst Pedersen got the ball to Christopher Samba and it got disallowed – was a perfectly respectable goal. It’s a real shame, because two wins in a row would have been great.
“But we have been improving and we have to keep pressing on.
“We’ll have two or three players coming back now for a couple of winnable home games, so I think we should be optimistic.”