Blackburn stride towards safety
Blackburn 2 Wigan 0
Blackburn captain Ryan Nelsen could hardly have picked a more perfect time to score his first Barclays Premier League goal as his side took a giant stride towards safety with victory over Wigan at Ewood Park.
After four years and 111 league games, Nelsen finally got on the scoresheet when he rose in the box on the hour to flick Benni McCarthy’s right-wing free-kick past Chris Kirkland in the Latics goal.
Nelsen’s strike put the seal on a magnificent afternoon for Sam Allardyce’s men who had grabbed the lead through McCarthy on the stroke of half-time and as a result of their win move above Hull and Sunderland into 15th place.
While boss Allardyce will admit nothing of the sort, the win is likely to secure another top-flight season for Rovers with a favourable run-in including home games against Portsmouth and West Brom to come.
But it had been a different story at the start of the day as Rovers went into this Lancashire derby hovering just two places and three points above the drop zone and hardly daring to contemplate the prospect of defeat.
Hampered by a continued shortage of attacking options which once again meant centre-back Chris Samba was pressed into action as a forward, the home side’s early jitters were plain to see.
With just three minutes on the clock Antonio Valencia casually skipped past Stephen Warnock on the right and floated a shot over Paul Robinson which crashed down off the underside of the bar before bouncing to safety.
But after a shaky start it was Samba who would pose most threat for Rovers in front of goal as he was picked out by Morten Gamst Pedersen’s high crosses and almost got a crucial touch on Warnock’s 11th-minute cross.
With the home threat growing, Wigan had a lucky escape in the 23rd minute when another deep Pedersen cross eluded everybody until it fell to El-Hadji Diouf at the far post, and his header goalwards was hustled off the line by a slipping Lee Cattermole.
Charles N’Zogbia lashed a left-foot shot wide for the visitors who continued to show plenty of purpose in their attacks, and Ben Watson should have done better when he was set up by Hugo Rodallega in the 26th minute but fired over the bar.
The visitors continued to shade the action up to the break, threatening from a series of Watson corners, while Allardyce’s shortage of attacking options was underlined again by his side’s absence of clear-cut chances.
However just as the half seemed destined to end in stalemate, McCarthy rose to meet Pedersen’s corner in the final minute and steered their potentially priceless opener past Kirkland.
Latics boss Steve Bruce replaced the ineffective Mido with Amr Zaki at the break, handing the Egyptian striker a shot at redemption for the first time since the much-publicised ear-bashing he gave the player for returning late from international duty.
But Rovers had the first chance of the half in the 54th minute when Samba out-jumped Kirkland to meet Andre Ooijer’s cross from the right but steered the ball just the wrong side of the post.
One minute later the visitors came closer when Valencia cut across the box and played a clever ball which put Watson through, but the midfielder’s low drive was parried away by Robinson.
Rovers took another huge stride towards safety on the hour when they grabbed their second goal, McCarthy flinging in a free-kick from the left and captain Nelsen rising to flick home his famous first goal.
Robinson denied Wigan an opportunity to reduce the deficit in the 65th minute with a series of fine saves which started when he tipped an N’Zogbia header over the bar for a corner.
From Watson’s set-piece Emmerson Boyce saw his initial shot cleared off the line before Robinson parried Valencia’s long-range follow-up then Scharner’s goalbound close-range header.
Robinson continued to deny the Latics a chance at getting back in the match, stretching well to parry another sharp effort from the dangerous Rodallega in the 72nd minute.
To their credit Wigan pressed to the end and Robinson was called into action in injury-time to save again from substitute Daniel De Ridder, and Ooijer booting a late Titus Bramble effort off the line.