Latics missed yet another golden opportunity –perhaps their best yet– to reignite their ailing season thanks to a mixture of poor defending and even worse officiating at the DW Stadium. For a neutral it was compelling, but for the ones really watching the game, namely fans of the two teams concerned, it was simply excruciating stuff.
In an attempt to galvanise the side, Martinez made five changes to the starting XI that lost to Wolves two weeks ago, perhaps the most notable being Rodallega’s relegation to the bench. Conor Sammon was the direct replacement, while fit-again James McCarthy and Jordi Gomez returned to the midfield. At the back, Steve Gohouri filled the gap left by the banned Alcaraz and Gary Caldwell was reinstated following his own one-match suspension. Stam was drafted in for Boyce and Watson given a stint on the sidelines as a new-look Latics side took to the pitch in search of the club’s first point(s) in two and a half months.
Wigan really went for it in the first half, once again dominating proceedings and, for the first time in a long while, took a lead into the break. The half didn’t start well, however, with Yakubu scoring within two minutes to put the home side on the back foot from the off. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Latics game without a sloppily conceded goal, would it? Ali Al Habsi got a hand to the Nigerian’s strike, which subsequently sailed beyond two scrambling defenders to give Rovers the lead.
The home side were almost handed a chance to get a foothold mere minutes later as the threatening Victor Moses was felled in the area for what looked like a clear-cut penalty. The referee waved it away, and you got the feeling this would be another one of those days.
To Wigan’s credit, they fought back fast. Blackburn’s joy was short lived, as Jordi Gomez soon had Latics back on level terms with a somewhat fortunate mid-range strike on 7 minutes. Rovers keeper Robinson was unsighted as a loitering Conor Sammon blocked his view and the Spaniard’s strike found its way into the net, much to the delight of the home faithful. It must also be noted that Mr Sammon was offside at the time, and you might say Latics were lucky not to have been pulled up for this. However, this team of officials, as we would discover as the game continued, would not be out of place on a Sunday League pitch, so I’m inclined to say it was more a case of incompetence chiefly on behalf of the whistleblower.
Anyway, not even ten minutes had passed and already this was gearing up to be a memorable encounter. Not that either team would really care about that if they didn’t get the three points, not one bit.
Latics took the lead during another spell of pressure on the Blackburn goal on the half hour mark, Gary Caldwell heading a David Jones corner through the sea of bodies and past Paul Robinson. It wasn’t the best defensive display, but, as they say, you still have to put them away – something we haven’t been doing of late. Were things changing? Would today be different enough to reward three points? The hosts certainly gave it a proper go and continued to pressure up to half time.
The second Wigan goal signalled an extended period in which the hosts largely controlled the game, but one sensed they would need to score again to even think about labelling their lead ‘comfortable’. They should really have gone further ahead through Victor Moses, who spurned two fantastic opportunities, but will have been happy enough to lead at half time. After all, the last time that happened was… erm…
The second stanza was not as good for Latics. It should have resulted in a Wigan win, but external factors clouded the situation – Blackburn, also fighting a similar battle against the drop, had started to find their feet but still couldn’t genuinely threaten in the same way as their opponents. It was to get worse, too, as another piece of poor officiating led to the sending off of David Dunn. The Lancastrian looked to have won the ball from a breaking Mo Diame, but Andre Marriner saw it differently and awarded Dunn a second yellow card and an early bath (47 mins).
Believe it or not, that wasn’t the end of the poor decisions. Blackburn were soon illegally back on level terms with a piece of hoodwinkery that, in this age of television replays and advanced computer technology, was simply incredible. It was another of those moments that makes you lose faith in football altogether and perhaps the whole of humanity, and goodness knows I’ve had enough of them this season to last three lifetimes.
Law 17 – The Corner Kick: Procedure (Pg. 50, bullet point six): “The kicker must not play the ball again until it has touched another player” ~ Laws of Football handbook, FA.com
The visitors did the equivalent of pulling a joker out of their pocket when nobody was looking. Seeing the referee’s back turned, Morton Gamst Pedersen caught the Wigan defence –and all three officials– completely off guard by quite blatantly taking a corner to himself and running into the penalty area, taking a deflected shot which was bundled in at the back post. You could say Latics should have been prepared, but what are you to do to combat such underhand actions? Well, I guess Blackburn thought they would take affirmative action to remedy the ref’s own incompetence and indecision. Which is fair enough, I suppose.
After such a blow, it took Wigan some time to get back into things, but by the 70th minute they were dominating once again. By now, Albert Crusat and Hugo Rodallega had joined the fray, but the question remained – would Latics be able to grab that winner? Well, yes and no. You see, Albert Crusat managed to finally not only get one on target, but also past Paul Robinson and his side were back in front. Unfortunately, Wigan simply could not pass out the remaining time, even against ten men who they had pretty much dominated for a great chunk of the match.
Blackburn earned themselves a corner for what would surely be the last move of the game in the 98th minute. All Wigan had to do was clear the ball one more time and the season would be off and running again. In an act of desperation, Paul Robinson came flying up to the opposition penalty area… only to promptly be karate kicked by David Jones, leaving the keeper red in the face – quite literally, for he was bleeding profusely. Yakubu polished off the resultant penalty to make the score 3-3 with the penultimate touch of the game. In such moments are seasons decided, and with a difficult string of fixtures to come, one fears six points could be all we have come January 2012. When you’re in such a situation, it really is a test of one’s faith.
Regardless of iffy officiating, today’s score might as well have read Wigan Attackers 3-3 Wigan Defenders as once again, it was a case of Latics being their own worst enemy. Plenty of enterprise, promising breaks, but a lack of quality and real finishing touch to seal it topped by a perpetually dodgy defensive line. Blackburn had three shots on target and scored from them all, so draw what conclusions you will from that nugget of information.
As another game passes, so do three (well, two in this case) more points, and this was the best chance yet; Wigan should have took all three points, but did not. Latics really can’t buy a win at the moment, and it’s looking increasingly likely they’ll have to steal points from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United to be in with a sniff of survival this season.
Well, I’ve had more than enough excitement for one week and am off to finish that nice sweater I’m knitting my niece for Christmas. No really, this football club will be the death of me – today certainly took a good few years off my life expectancy.