Premier League – Blackburn ease pressure with victory

Eurosport

Blackburn Rovers took a huge step towards Premier League safety with a crucial 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic at Ewood Park.

FOOTBALL 2008-2009 Premier League Blackburn Rovers Benni McCarthy - 0

Benni McCarthy and Ryan Nelsen were on target for Rovers as Sam Allardyce’s side moved up to 15th place, six points ahead of Middlesbrough, who occupy the final relegation spot. Wigan stay in 11th.

With just five games remaining heading into this fixture, the pre-match music selection featuring classic rock anthem The Final Countdown could not have been more appropriate – Blackburn started the game with time fast running out to secure their top flight status.

That Rovers have failed to haul themselves out of the relegation dogfight of late has had much to do with the absence through injury of first-choice strikers Roque Santa Cruz and Jason Roberts.

And once again, Sam Allardyce had to contend with just one fit striker – McCarthy. His response was to play giant centre-half Chris Samba up front alongside the South African.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Blackburn’s tactics reflected that; from the first whistle the hosts made clear their intention to rely on long balls or throws towards the big target man.

It was far from pretty, but the route one tactics certainly succeeded on putting pressure on the Wigan goal, even if the first chance of the day went the visitors’ way.

That fell to Antonio Valencia, the Ecuadorian taking on and beating Stephen Warnock before crashing a shot off the underside of the crossbar.

Rovers recovered from that early scare and went on to enjoy the better of most of the first half, Samba, McCarthy and then Morten Gamst Pedersen all going close in quick succession soon after.

El-Hadjii Diouf then had a header cleared off the line by Lee Cattermole before Rovers made their superior possession count just before the half-time break.

Unsurprisingly, it came from a set-piece, McCarthy rising to meet a corner in a crowded penalty area with a header past the flailing Chris Kirkland.

Samba’s bulk continued to cause consternation in the Wigan defence after the break, although the makeshift striker failed trouble the Latics keeper with a number of weak headers during the second half.

But there was nothing wrong with Nelsen’s header on the hour mark, the skipper glancing on McCarthy’s wicked free-kick into the Wigan danger area to put Blackburn two up.

Incredibly, it was Nelsen’s first goal in a Rovers shirt, but he is unlikely to score a more crucial one as it gave his side the cushion they needed to ensure the final half-hour did not degenerate into a nerve-jangling finale.

Paul Robinson should also take some of the credit for avoiding that scenario, the former England keeper making four crucial saves to maintain his side’s clean sheet during the second half.

The first two came in quick succession on 66 minutes, first to deny Emerson Boyce from close range and then to stop Valencia’s follow-up from the edge of the box. David Dunn headed Paul Scharner‘s effort off the line in the scramble that ensued.

Robinson then got a strong hand to Hugo Rodallega’s fierce drive on 75 minutes before again coming to Rovers’ rescue in stoppage time to frustrate Daniel De Ridder.

Wigan were perhaps unlucky not to grab a goal for their efforts, particularly after Keith Andrews twice cleared off the line from Titus Bramble and then Olivier Kapo deep into time added on.

But it was Blackburn’s day, one that might yet prove crucial in their quest to preserve their status as a top flight club.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport

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