Blackburn Rovers 3 Wigan Athletic 1: Rovers in Cruz control, Wigan in peril

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The Independent Online

Blackburn overcame the handicap of playing for all but 15 minutes without their imposing central defender Christopher Samba, still proving too good for Wigan, who themselves finished with 10 men. Samba and Wilson Palacios were sent off by the referee, Mike Dean, during an ener-getic and eventful Lancashire derby in which the aerial opportunism of Roque Santa Cruz and the all-round excellence of David Bentley were the key factors.

The Paraguayan brought his total for his first English season to 18, 14 of them in the Premier League and five against Wigan, with two headed goals. Bentley, playing in a variety of roles apart from his usual one on the right of midfield, was always the most creative player on the field.

Bentley was instrumental in Blackburn going ahead, hisshot catching Chris Kirkland unawares after the Wigan goalkeeper had been treated for several minutes having landed awkwardly on his shoulder. Kirkland, lacking his usual mobility, had only fended the shot away in the air and Santa Cruz arrived to nod into the empty net. Samba departed when he leaned on Emile Heskey as the striker chased the ball into the area, Heskey going down rather easilybut almost inevitably getting the decision. With Samba off the field with a straight red card, Marlon King put away the spot-kick.

"At 1-1 and with 10 men it looked like being a hard day at theoffice," said the Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes. "But we kept two men upfront and their movement and ability to play off each other were crucial for us."

That ability was apparent in the goal that put Rovers back in front before half-time. Santa Cruz won the ball in the air and knocked it down for Jason Roberts, who pulled away from his marker, Emmerson Boyce, and beat Kirkland with a left-footed shot.

The goal that ensured three points was a tribute to the versatility of Bentley. Usually a specialist on the right, he excelled in the middle and added plenty down the left. When he got to the byline and crossed with his less favoured foot, he did so with such precision that the ball hung long enough for Santa Cruzto have introduced himself formally before heading it home.

Any hopes Wigan had of getting back into the game probably disappeared when Palacios was sent off for a tackle on David Dunn, having already been booked for one on Steven Reid in the first half. "He was fouled more than anyone else on the field," said the Wigan manager, Steve Bruce, of the midfielder from Honduras. "But it was probably two yellow cards."

There has been recent evidence that, under some circumstances, Wigan can play better a man short, but there was no sign of that yesterday. "By the standards we have set ourselves recently it was an off day, and we never got started," Bruce said. Wigan are certain to be without Erik Edman for the rest of the season after he ruptured a knee ligament, while Kirkland will report for England duty with a question mark over his fitness.

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