Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray labelled captain Darragh Lenihan a “special footballer” after his side hammered hapless Birmingham 4-0 to close in on the Sky Bet Championship’s automatic promotion places.
Lenihan was instrumental in the victory, setting up one goal and marshalling a defence that has completely transformed since their 7-0 humbling by Fulham.
In seven games since, they have conceded just two goals and have kept five consecutive league clean sheets for the first time since the 1996/97 season.
John Buckley’s first of the season in the sixth minute set Rovers on their way and they put the result beyond doubt with two goals in the space of eight second-half minutes, through Reda Khadra’s composed finish and a Ben Brereton Diaz penalty.
The Chilean’s close-range header – his 19th goal of the campaign – capped a wonderful afternoon for third-placed Blackburn who have won six of their last seven and now look ready to gatecrash a top two that seemed set in stone just weeks ago.
Blackburn’s attack – the second most potent in the league – is well known, but the defensive solidity that has accompanied it since the Fulham hammering is just as crucial, and Mowbray praised Lenihan’s leadership.
He said: “I think defensively we looked pretty strong. I think we’ve got a real determination about trying to keep clean sheets. I need to mention Lenihan who has got the added responsibility of captain, leadership and he’s showing that.
“He’s standing like a man mountain. Delighted for Darragh. He’s right at the top of his game. You can just tell by the way he plays on the front foot. He’s towering over people six inches taller than him, he’s passing looks so assured, long passing. He’s got clear pictures in his mind I think of how we want to play and what his job is. He’s a special footballer.
“Do we look like we can score goals when we win the ball back and break away? Yes. Any team that carries the threat that we carry and looks as solid as we look at the moment is going to win games.
“The combination of the defensive stability and the goal threat is pretty potent.”
Birmingham slipped to 17th after a chastening afternoon that means they have won just once in the last seven, losing four in that time.
Blues boss Lee Bowyer conceded his team were “out of our depth” at Ewood Park.
He said: “We helped them along the way. The goals we conceded are not good enough. We were second best. For me the only positive today is JJ (Jordan James). He can walk out of that dressing room with his head held high.
“They are a good side though, Blackburn. They’ve got quality all over the park. Even the people they’re bringing on were really good. We were out of our depth today.
“(For the first goal) Just another basic ball. We got done with a ball from centre-half to the opposite wing back, who comes inside Kristian (Pedersen) who can’t touch him. And the second one is from a centre-half and he slides one straight past, and they get in.
“It’s not like us, we normally defend better than that. We weren’t at the races today.
“We have to improve as a group. We know that wasn’t good enough. We have to do better.”
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