Kalinic off mark to give Rovers a cushion

Blackburn Rovers 2 Wigan Athletic 1
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The Independent Football

Nikola Kalinic picked his time to score his first Premier League goal for Blackburn, earning a victory that puts them five points clear of Wigan in the lower-middle reaches of the table.

Kalinic has brought a welcome scoring touch to Cup competitions since his arrival at Rovers, but he was still without a League goal at the start of this, the sort of unglamorous, bread-and-butter match that could prove so important at the end of the season.

The Croat thought he had broken his duck as early as the fourth minute last night. There was an almighty scramble in the Wigan area, Brett Emerton hooked the ball back from the byline and Kalinic hit the post, as he has done three times in his short Blackburn career.

He was briefly in with a chance once more when he ran onto a pass from his strike partner, El Hadji Diouf, after 16 minutes, only to be frustrated by a belated offside flag.

Three minutes later, Blackburn were in the lead, thanks to a memorable goal. Emerton launched a long free-kick into the penalty area and Vladimir Stojkovic, making his Premier League debut as a stand-in for the injured Chris Kirkland, could only punch the ball out to the edge of the D.

It was met there by an exquisite left-footed half-volley from Morten Gamst Pedersen that arrowed past him and into the top corner of the net.

Wigan had arrived with Hugo Rodallega on his own up front, but that early goal obliged them to push their wide men, Charles N'Zogbia and James McCarthy, upfield in support. It still looked a lightweight attack and the nearest the Latics came to an equaliser was when Paul Scharner almost got a touch to Rodallega's free-kick as it crossed the six-yard box.

The running of N'Zogbia began to exert some pressure on Rovers, and it was his sortie that brought the corner that led to the Wigan equaliser.

When McCarthy put the ball across, the Blackburn defence was too distracted by Scharner on the near post to prevent Gary Caldwell from heading his first goal for his new club.

With 15 minutes to play and Rovers' frustration mounting, Kalinic at last got his first league goal – a stooping header from a corner needlessly conceded by Maynor Figueroa.

The reaction of his manager, Sam Allardyce, who has handled his introduction to the Premier League, was to take him off. "He's looking better and better," he said, "But we've got to save him."

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Nelsen, Givet, Olsson; Hoilett (Reid, 54), Emerton, Nzonzi, Pedersen; Diouf (Di Santo, 77), Kalinic (Roberts, 77). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Salgado, Jones.

Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Stojkovic; Melchiot (Boyce, 67), Bramble, Caldwell, Figueroa; N'Zogbia, Thomas (Scotland, 85), Scharner, Diame, McCarthy (Sinclair, 86); Rodallega. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Gohouri, Amaya, Gomez.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Booked: Blackburn: Reid, Nzonzi, Robinson; Wigan Diame.

Man of the match: Kalinic.

Attendance: 22,190.