Mark Hughes was famously a scorer of great goals, rather than a great goal-scorer, during his playing career, so it was little wonder that he relished Steven Reid's contribution to this satisfying Blackburn display. The Republic of Ireland midfielder produced a quite stunning strike early in the second half to decide, effectively, a match Rovers always dominated.
Wigan's Pascal Chimbonda probably thought he had cleared the ball far enough with his header, but Reid's volley into the roof of the net was as precise as it was power-packed. Rovers were two up and on their way to victory in the first ever League meeting between the clubs.
Hughes called it "a remarkable goal" but Reid's influence on the game did not begin and end there. Playing in his favourite central midfield role, he was a dominant figure in a match which saw Blackburn, by the Wigan manager Paul Jewell's admission, "first to every ball". Rovers were without the suspended Tugay, which has been the cue in the past for some sub-standard displays; there were no such problems at the JJB.
"Robbie Savage and Steven Reid were magnificent in that crucial area of the field and Steven capped it with that goal," Hughes said. He admits that injuries have made Reid's Blackburn career a stop-start affair since he arrived from Millwall. He has also been used as a wide player, but looked a natural in what might be described as the Steven Gerrard role, driving forward from central midfield. "He has sometimes lacked a little belief in his own ability, but he showed what he is about today," Hughes said.
Reid was not on his own. Savage showed all his usual energy and mercifully little of his usual petulance alongside him. Outside them, there was pace and verve from David Bentley and Morten Gamst Pedersen, who scored a marvellous goal of his own.
Just as he did against Fulham in August, Pedersen found the net with a left-footed volley from an unfeasibly narrow angle. It was Tugay who upstaged him that day; on Saturday, it was Reid's turn.
A defence marshalled by that inspired signing Ryan Nelsen also did a good job in keeping Jason Roberts and Henri Camara as quiet as they have been all season. The upshot was that this was a game which, at the end of their annus mirabilis, Wigan never really got into.
The simplistic explanation was that Blackburn were fresh, following the postponement of their game on Wednesday night, and the Latics were leg-weary. The pronouncements of Sir Alex Ferguson on this subject have alerted the game to the potential for sharp practice over postponements, but the Blackburn manager was adamant that his side had wanted to play against Sunderland.
"I'd argue all day against any suggestion that we didn't want to play," Hughes said. "It was a home game against the bottom of the league and we were desperate to get the game on. We probably took the frustration out on Wigan today."
A disappointing end to 2005 cannot disguise a wonderful year for Jewell's team. He admitted that he had pondered making changes to freshen up his side and will now certainly do so.
"But at the start of the year, we would have settled for being where we are now," Jewell said with some understatement. "There is no crisis."Reuse content