Tony Mowbray bemoaned an “awkward night” after Blackburn endured a frustrating 0-0 draw with relegation-threatened Stoke.
The hosts could have moved to within two points of the top six after winning two of the three matches previous to this encounter, but playing against a visiting side sitting deep they lacked the guile to find a way through.
On the occasions they did, Jack Butland was in the way, saving impressively from Sam Gallagher and Adam Armstrong.
Rovers remain eighth, and Mowbray admitted that the visitors made life difficult for his side.
He said: “Ultimately we’re left frustrated. I think they came with a pretty decent defensive gameplan.
“Michael (O’Neill) has been around, has managed his country against top, top teams and knows how to set up teams to defend.
“They played deep to nullify our speed over the top. They narrowed their midfield to stop our 10s getting on the ball. It was difficult for us to get through them.
“Obviously they have a bit of speed and knowhow at the top end and it was an awkward night for us.
“Did we do enough to sneak it 1-0? It would have been nice if we’d scored from a set play, or a ricocheted shot, or something had flown in, a free-kick or something.
“We’d have taken 1-0 but Stoke have got some experienced players, they have a very experienced manager and they made life very difficult for us, so we’re left a bit frustrated.”
Stoke remain 20th, only one point from the relegation zone after Wigan’s win at Reading. But, after claiming their third clean sheet on the road this season, Michael O’Neill declared it a “great point” and highlighted his goalkeeper’s contribution.
He said: “It’s a great point for us, it was hard-earned. We had to defend, particularly in the second half, for long periods against a very good team, a team pushing for a top six position.
“A clean sheet away from home, the first draw I’ve had away from home since I’ve come in. We’ve either lost or won in the game, so possibly that’s what we need more of.
“We’ve tried to win every game since we’ve come in but as I say we are happy with the point. A little bit disappointed with how we played in terms of possession at times and we had opportunities we could have done a little bit better with on the counter-attack, but overall as I say, it’s a good point.
“It wasn’t a game with many clear-cut chances. I think we limited Blackburn to very few chances, although they had a lot of possession, but I thought we defended the box very well and obviously Jack had a good night as well.”
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