Wigan Athletic 5 Blackburn Rovers 3: Bent wraps up victory for Wigan after Santa is gifted a hat-trick

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The Independent Online

If this is the level of drama that Steve Bruce will have to withstand between now and the conclusion of Wigan's battle to avoid relegation then the former Birmingham manager would be wise to keep an eye on his blood pressure. Three goals to the good after a "near perfect" first half, Bruce saw Blackburn claw their way back to 3-3 despite being reduced to 10 men before Marcus Bent secured Wigan's first win in 14 games after a match of two hat-tricks, a missed penalty and another injury to Emile Heskey.

The latest setback to Heskey, who badly twisted an ankle towards the end of the first half, could not have come at a less opportune moment with another new England coach to impress.

Heskey has already missed 11 weeks of the season with a broken foot and Bruce fears he may face another lengthy lay-off. "He is on crutches now and he will have scans over the next 24 to 48 hours to assess the injury but he has gone over badly on his ankle and it looks like he will be at least a few weeks out," Bruce said.

Happily, Bent made up for Heskey's loss by matching the three goals scored by Blackburn's Roque Santa Cruz as Wigan celebrated their first win since 1 September and left Mark Hughes to contemplate what is going wrong for his team after recording only one win in seven.

Blackburn had to play the last 30 minutes a man short after Brett Emerton was shown his second yellow card by the referee, Mark Clattenburg, and while he thought the dismissal was harsh, Hughes felt it was not the cause of his side's defeat. "The first yellow should not have been a yellow but we lost because our defending in the first half was unacceptable," Hughes said.

Wigan, who conceded a goal after 28 seconds in their last home fixture, were two up inside 12 minutes this time. Both goals emphasised their capacity to counter-attack at speed, a quality that Bruce has quickly identified as one they must exploit.

Denny Landzaat took advantage first, going clear through the middle as Bent directed a well-judged lay-off into his path and steering the ball calmly past Brad Friedel. Then Bent, facing one of his former clubs, bustled in at the business end of another direct assault, defying Stephen Warnock and Ryan Nelsen in their efforts to dispossess him before leaving Friedel to pick the ball out of his net for the second time in two minutes.

Blackburn's joy at welcoming Steven Reid back into their side for his first start in 16 months had already dissipated but the afternoon did not improve for them. Having squandered an opportunity when Benni McCarthy's feeble penalty was saved by Chris Kirkland, following Heskey's impeding of Christopher Samba, they conceded a third goal after 37 minutes as Paul Scharner scored at the near post from Ryan Taylor's free-kick on the left.

Yet first-half stoppage time launched them on a comeback with a piece of individual brilliance from Santa Cruz, beating Kirkland with a fine strike from the left-hand corner of area. That inspired a much more determined start to the second half, in which the Paraguayan hooked home the rebound after Emmerson Boyce had almost put Emerton's cross into his own net, then completed his hat-trick by heading home Warnock's centre.

Wigan's spirit could not be subdued, however, and they took advantage of the extra man in the final 15 minutes as Bent converted two Antonio Valencia crosses to land Bruce his first win in his fourth match in charge.

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