Report: Saints held to rare goalless draw

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Southampton were held to a goalless draw for the first time this season, as the points were shared in a result more satisfying for relegation-threatened Blackburn than their promotion-chasing visitors at Ewood Park.

Saints came closest to scoring when Joe Aribo’s 25th-minute header bounced out off the crossbar, while substitute Ché Adams shot narrowly wide in the second half before goalkeeper Aynsley Pears denied Kyle Walker-Peters and Kamaldeen Sulemana in the closing stages.

Russell Martin made three changes to his side following the gut-wrenching Easter Monday defeat at Ipswich.

There were recalls for Walker-Peters, Joe Rothwell and David Brooks, as James Bree and Stuart Armstrong missed out through suspension and concussion respectively, while Adams dropped to the bench.

Saints captain Jack Stephens continued at left-back, while Adam Armstrong led the line as the central striker on his return to Ewood Park.

There was a chance for the Blackburn old boy, one of three in the Saints line-up, inside ten minutes.

Walker-Peters fed the run of Brooks down the right side of the penalty area, and the Welshman’s low cross looked perfect for Armstrong on the edge of the six-yard box, but Saints’ top scorer was unable to apply a clean connection.

Ryan Fraser delivers a cross from the left

Martin’s team looked comfortable enough, but chances were in short supply until Saints hit the crossbar through Aribo on 25 minutes.

When Ryan Fraser played the ball back for Stephens, the skipper delivered a perfect cross for the Nigerian to meet with a header that he looped over goalkeeper Aynsley Pears, but it just didn’t dip in time to nestle under the bar.

The same could be true of Sammie Szmodics’s first sight of goal. From a stray pass by Jan Bednarek, the Championship’s leading scorer attempted to catch out Republic of Ireland teammate Gavin Bazunu with an ambitious 35-yarder that landed on the top of the net.

By that time Rovers were already without starting right-winger Ryan Hedges, who was forced off with injury, before Brooks, playing in the same position for the visitors, needed treatment after a robust challenge inside the box from Callum Brittain.

Brittain was the man sent off in Blackburn’s 4-0 defeat at St Mary’s in December, and took a risk with a tough tackle on Brooks, but referee Craig Pawson ruled he played the ball first and any contact was hard but fair.

Martin would have wanted more intensity after the interval, but it was Blackburn who carved out the first chance, working the ball smartly from right to left, where Tyrhys Dolan had space to run into, but his low shot across Bazunu lacked the necessary power to beat the keeper.

Kyle Walker-Peters came close to a late winner

The Saints boss turned to his bench for the first time just after the hour mark, as Will Smallbone and Adams were summoned to replace Rothwell and Brooks.

Adams, a goalscorer on his last appearance, came agonisingly close to making it two in two with virtually his first touch of the ball, stepping on to Aribo’s neat lay-off and sending a low, curling shot only inches wide of the far post.

At the other end, former Saint Sam Gallagher had a sight of goal from a deep cross to the far post that was just fractionally too high for him, and the striker could not direct the ball back across goal.

It would take an important intervention from ex-Blackburn loanee Taylor Harwood-Bellis to keep out Gallagher again soon after, before the defender made an even better block at the feet of Szmodics in the area.

Further Saints changes arrived 15 minutes from time in the shape of Kamaldeen and Samuel Edozie for Adam Armstrong, who departed to polite applause from the home crowd, and Ryan Fraser.

Kamaldeen quickly turned provider for Walker-Peters, who stepped inside and saw his left-footed shot saved by Pears from one of Saints’ best openings, before Bazunu kept out Joe Rankin-Costello’s effort down by his near post.

Two of Saints’ substitutes combined with two minutes left when the explosive Kamaldeen latched on to Edozie’s pass in behind the defence, but Pears was out sharply to save at his feet, and both sides would have to settle for a point.

Blackburn Rovers: Pears, Brittain, Hyam (c), Wharton, Pickering, Tronstad, Rankin-Costello, Hedges (Markanday 27), Szmodics, Dolan, Gallagher.

Unused substitutes: Wahlstedt, McFadzean, Carter, Chrisene, Moran, Buckley, Garrett, Telalović.

Yellow cards: Dolan, Pickering, Rankin-Costello.

Southampton: Bazunu, Walker-Peters (Mara 87), Harwood-Bellis, Bednarek, Stephens (c), Downes, Aribo, Rothwell (Smallbone 62), Brooks (Adams 62), A Armstrong (Kamaldeen 75), Fraser (Edozie 75).

Unused substitutes: Lumley, Lawrence, Manning, Charles.

Yellow cards: Brooks, Adams.

Referee: Craig Pawson.