Tyrhys Dolan’s double helped Blackburn begin their new era with a 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Stoke to ease their relegation worries.
After a turbulent week that saw John Eustace replace Jon Dahl Tomasson as head coach, Blackburn put in an encouraging display, epitomised by scoring three goals in the first 37 minutes.
Dolan converted a seventh-minute opener from close range before Sammie Szmodics headed in his 22nd of the campaign 13 minutes later.
Dolan’s composed finish seemingly put the game beyond Stoke, but Niall Ennis marked his full debut after his deadline-day move from Blackburn by scoring his first for the club before half-time.
Daniel Johnson spurned a glorious chance early in the second half as his poor penalty was saved and, despite Stoke’s possession, Rovers’ defence deprived the visitors of any real opportunities to win their first league game since mid-December.
Steven Schumacher made eight changes for this clash but it made no difference in a woeful first half where the game was lost and Stoke are two places and three points above the drop zone after a fourth straight defeat.
Dolan gave the new era lift off in the seventh minute, but the architect was Callum Brittain whose sumptuous first-time cross put the chance on a plate for him to slot home from six yards at the far post, and Sam Gallagher went close to doubling the advantage in the 14th minute but slotted just wide.
Stoke failed to learn their lesson and were further behind in the 20th minute after Brittain was again given time to superbly cross and Ryan Hedges nodded across goal for Szmodics to thump his header into the roof of the net.
The away supporters were irate after Rovers scored a simple third in the 37th minute when a long ball was flicked on by Gallagher, sending Dolan racing clear on the right with just Daniel Iversen to beat and he made no mistake, burying his shot into the left corner.
Stoke had hope two minutes later when Bae Jun-ho’s flick-on found Ennis in the area and he showed excellent composure to step inside his man and find the left corner.
It gave the visitors some impetus and they carved out a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit further just after the break when Brittain hauled down Andre Vidigal in the area.
Johnson stepped up to take the penalty but Aynsley Pears guessed the right way and saved before Rovers cleared.
The visitors were in the ascendency and Ben Wilmot shot straight at Pears, but Blackburn displayed defensive solidity that has been missing to expertly see the game out.
Blackburn first team coach Damien Johnson:
“I’m not going to lie, it feels good. It’s been a difficult couple of days. Great credit to the players. It’s not easy for them but I thought they were outstanding today.
“Their concentration, their application, how they went about it, the togetherness they showed as you could see towards the end, was superb, so great credit to them.
“They did lots of good things. I think we showed two sides of the game today. Lots of good things in the first half and then we dug in.
“We knew that we’d find space on transition so there was an element of allowing Stoke to come onto us. I think at times in the game we could look after the ball better but when you’ve had a run of results like this, the important thing is you get three points.”
Stoke’s Steven Schumacher:
“The start is just not good enough. If you give a Championship team a 3-0 head start, then you’re doomed, because they don’t really have to do anything else in the game.
“That’s kind of what we did. We didn’t start the game well enough. They scored goals that were too easy to score and gave ourselves a mountain to climb.
“From the third goal onwards, I thought we looked better, we looked like a team. We were positive, we passed the ball forwards which we didn’t do up until they scored the third goal, and we won some tackles and some duels which is the bare minimum.
“We’ve got to show a bit more character, a bit more belief, a bit more bravery. More importantly, we’ve got to show a bit more fight.”