If Tuesday night was a must win game, then I’m not sure what today was. You know that expression, “a real six pointer”? Though this wasn’t one of those in the truest sense of the word, Wigan sure could have used six points, planted firmly in the relegation zone and looking increasingly hopeless as they were, outplayed by most the Premier League has to throw at them and in real danger of being cast adrift. Tellingly, there have been few results against the teams around us, who are all in supreme form when compared to Wigan’s recent run of results, which haven’t seen us win since Boxing Day.
This downward spiral looked to be continuing with a goal by… guess who? It could only be ex-Latic Jason “always scores against Wigan” Roberts, who put the visitors into a 22nd minute lead. It was just about deserved, too, with Blackburn looking the better in front of goal up to that point. Latics had their own moments, but a string of bad decisions put paid to any chance of real shots on target. When they finally did some 12 minutes later, they actually managed to score from close range via James McCarthy, restoring some confidence and offering hope of a crucial three points. Tantalisingly, things were only just warming up. Though the game didn’t quite live up to the 4-4 thriller at St James’ Park, it came quite close, at least in terms of the scoreline.
Prior to the second half, you sensed Latics had to seize the moment and take back some control of their rapidly deteriorating season – a draw simply would not suffice. As the teams emerged from the tunnel once again, the rain had already started to fall that little bit harder, quickly turning the pitch into something resembling a farmer’s field. There was nothing muddy about the Latics performance, however, as they came out fighting, perhaps already for their Premier League lives.
A combination of Al Habsi, Moses and Rodallega ensured a perfect start to the second half as Hugo stole in behind Rovers’ defence to finish a truly route one move. It can’t have lasted longer than fifteen seconds: Al Habsi’s long clearance found Victor Moses, who headed perfectly into space for Rodallega to run on to and round the keeper. Not exactly the pretty football Martinez would prefer, but it resulted in a goal and that’s all that matters.
If our second goal was a little bit, erm, ‘uncultured’, then McCarthy’s finish for Latics’ third was a class above the sort of stuff we’re used to seeing at the DW. Charles N’Zogbia found himself up against a wall of defenders in the Rovers six yard box and somehow managed to tap the ball a whole five feet to McCarthy. The Glasgow-born Irishman produced a neat little touch with his right foot, setting himself up for a left footed shot wonderfully placed between what seemed like five or six Blackburn men into the bottom right corner of Paul Robinson’s net. What’s this, a good goal? Well, it did cap a fine first ten minutes or so of the second half. Good show.
But if Wigan thought they could sit comfortably on their two goal lead, they were in for a shock. Pretty much straight from the goal, Latics conceded a corner which would prove costly as Christopher Samba leapt higher than everyone to head powerfully past a floundering Al Habsi. Though the Omani came to claim, he was nowhere near the big Blackburn centre back, who in the event was able to finish with some ease and bring it back to 3-2. Nope, this wasn’t going to be easy.
Steve Kean, eager (keen?) to push for a result, sent on Dunn and Diouf on the 60-minute mark. Though the former wouldn’t make an immediate impact, he would have some bearing on the game a bit later on.
Wigan, meanwhile, continued to press with an air of caution, looking to pass the ball in the opposition half and attempting to breach the Blackburn backline once more. When Momo Diame received the ball near the opposition corner flag, he made a bustling run into the penalty area, whereupon he was ankle tapped by Michel Salgado. Spot-kick to Wigan, and a chance for Ben Watson to follow up his midweek free-kick with another important strike. He made no mistake, sending the ball down the centre of Robinson’s goal to restore Latics’ two-goal lead. It was a little too close to the Rovers keeper’s left foot for Watson’s liking, but nonetheless found the net.
With 25 minutes left, this contest was far from over. By this point, the pitch had become a bit of a mudbath and a patch of play in right midfield –a particularly affected area– resulted in some spells of scrappy football in which both sides struggled to keep hold of the ball. You know what they say – fight fire with fire, and my word did Blackburn endeavour to play the proper British way on a proper British pitch, launching the ball into a packed Wigan area at every opportunity. It worked precisely once, when Emmerson Boyce left a foot in on David Dunn in his own area. Another penalty for sure, and Dunn assuredly placed the ball past Al Habsi’s left hand in front of an expectant group of travelling supporters. Needless to say, they were a bit chuffed with the outcome.
We were in for a close finish, which wasn’t really what Wigan wanted but had to be happy with. That area of the pitch, pummelled by what presumably must have been a midweek rugby friendly, was really slowing the game down and turning things in Wigan’s favour. Franco Di Santo would join the action — alongside McArthur and a returning Cleverley — for a brief time to try and see out what would be an imperative win, aiding the time wasting effort with a yellow card for kicking the ball away.
There was one last hurrah for the visitors as they once again pumped the ball forward to the 20-man melee that was the Wigan 18-yard box. Thankfully, referee Mike Dean adjudged David Dunn to have fouled Steve Gohouri, and with that, the final whistle would signal Latics’ oh-so-crucial three points that will hopefully start us off on a better run of results. I wouldn’t bet on it, though, with a resurgent Liverpool to come at Anfield next Saturday and both Manchester sides to follow. A win today offers hope of survival and proves there is the resilience to go down (well, hopefully not that part) fighting, but the work is far from over.