A third successive win completed a productive holiday period for Blackburn Rovers yesterday as they won a largely forgettable Lancashire derby against Wigan Athletic.
As a spectacularly heavy shower drenched the JJB Stadium towards the end of the first half, it was tempting to hope that a second Wigan game in three days might be abandoned - it could have been classed as an act of euthanasia from Mark Clattenburg, the referee. Blackburn, though, will not be concerned at the lack of quality in a match that brought into question the wisdom of organising four games - or three and two-thirds in Wigan's case - in the space of 10 days.
From the brink of the bottom three, Rovers have moved into the comfort of mid-table. Their latest batch of three points ultimately arrived emphatically, courtesy of a first-half own goal from Emile Heskey, Matt Derbyshire's first Premiership strike, and a Benni McCarthy penalty.
Moving in the opposite direction are Wigan, who collected only four points in December and have now not won in six games. They offered little beyond the ever-willing Heskey and the occasional burst of pace from David Cotterill. Their manager, Paul Jewell, will surely look to add to his squad now the transfer window is open. Certainly, their players appeared jaded in a match that was devoid of excitement for long periods, especially in the first half.
After an opening 25 minutes of unremitting banality, Josip Skoko at least provided some entertainment with a fiercely struck volley that Brad Friedel, probably as much out of surprise as anything, could only parry unconvincingly. It seemed to stir Blackburn, as shortly after that, McCarthy beat Arjan De Zeeuw before finding his strike partner Shabani Nonda whose shot was deflected wide.
Blackburn took the lead 10 minutes before half-time. McCarthy won a dubious free-kick near the touchline and Morten Gamst Pedersen produced his customarily excellent delivery. As it swung between goalkeeper Chris Kirkland and his defenders, Zurab Khizanishvili was poised to meet it only for Heskey to get there first and divert the ball into his own net. It was hard to argue that they deserved to go ahead, but they had looked the more threatening team on their occasional attacks.
Heskey almost atoned by scoring in the second half when his header from a corner looked goal-bound until Brett Emerton, standing on the line, repelled it.
As the game wore on, Blackburn found more space on the counter attack and, from one resulting corner, at least half a dozen players ended in a heap inside the Wigan six-yard box with the ball trapped underneath them. Quite why Clattenburg, who also booked five Blackburn men in the course of the afternoon, decided to award Wigan a free kick was impossible to fathom. Mark Hughes was distinctly unimpressed, but it did not matter as his team's second goal arrived minutes later. Pedersen was again the provider, heading across goal for an unmarked Derbyshire to side-foot home from close range.
With 15 minutes to go, Clattenburg won Hughes' approval, awarding a penalty for Fitz Hall's handball as he blocked McCarthy's shot at close range. The striker converted it emphatically for his ninth league goal of what is becoming an impressive first season in English football.
That was more than enough to ensure the match was beyond Wigan, for whom the indications are that 2007 may prove less prosperous than 2006 did.
Goals: Heskey og (36) 0-1; Derbyshire (57) 0-2; McCarthy pen (75) 0-3.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Hall, Boyce, De Zeeuw, Baines; Cotterill, Skoko (Wright, h-t), Landzaat, Kilbane; Heskey, Johansson. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Jackson, Cywka, Teale.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel, Emerton, Henchoz (Todd, 71), Khizanishvili, Neill; Bentley, Savage, Mokoena, Pedersen; Nonda (Derbyshire, h-t), McCarthy (Gallagher, 77). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Tugay.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear). Booked: Blackburn Mokoena, Neill, Henchoz, Khizanishvili, Bentley.
Man of the match: Pedersen.
Attendance: 14,864.Reuse content