by : Kieran McHugh
Blackburn Rovers continue their unlikely quest for Champions League football next season by taking on another of the 2005/06 Premiership’s overachievers Wigan Athletic at Ewood Park. Having won 5 of their last 6 Premiership games, they are hitting form just when it counts. Their only defeat, at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, hurt not only because they are rivals for 4th spot, but also because most neutrals had them as the better team on the day.
Wigan themselves will be hoping to end the season by putting some patchy form behind them, and pushing as far up the table as they can. The defeat at home to West Ham might have put paid to any lingering hopes that they could snatch the last Champions League place, but Paul Jewell will not have given up on a berth in next season’s UEFA Cup. The best chance of that though may have gone west in Cardiff in the Carling Cup final. Since their grand day out, Wigan have reacted more or less as Jewell will have wanted, despite the loss to the Hammers.
Craig Bellamy has scored 11 times this season and 6 times in the last 6 games. If Rovers are to clinch 4th spot, games at home against Wigan will have to be won, and Bellamy is the key. His pace and movement up front will cause problems to any defence and his eye for a chance should mean no rest for De Zeeuw and Scharner should they again form the central defensive partnership. Across midfield, Emerton, Savage, Reid and Pederson offer competitiveness and no shortage of attacking impetus. Wigan’s midfield has a workmanlike look which has been never let them down this season, although it’s worth noting that they have struggled against the top teams.
Chimbonda down Wigan’s right hand side has dealt fairly effectively with anything thrown at him this season, but Pederson has been instrumental for Blackburn all season. With the lack of an effective target man to aid Bellamy in the goalscoring stakes he has chipped in 9 times. He also tops Blackburn’s assists chart. Whether he can be dealt with effectively could be key to Wigan’s chances. Shefki Kuqi and Paul Dickov can also be called upon should Blackburn need a goal late on.
Wigan though will cause problems the longer the game goes on without a goal. The pace of Roberts and the trickery of Henri Camara will ensure that any chance to break could lead to a goal. Away from the JJB Wigan have thrived in their first season in the top flight. With 8 wins on the road only Chelsea and Manchester United can boast better records. Wigan are unbeaten in 5 away and have recorded wins against Middlesborough, Sunderland and Manchester City of late. Score draws at the Reebok and White Hart Lane will sound a warning to Blackburn.
Mark Hughes appears to have the grit of his former manager, the man management skills and also the tactical nous. Having performed a rare league “double” over United, we can assume that he also has Ferguson’s eye for detail. Rovers will not take Wigan lightly. Hughes’ men are likely to be the hungrier of the two sets of players with a genuine chance to end the season with the “glory” of 4th place.
However, Paul Jewell has performed miracles in two stints in the Premiership, first with Bradford and now with Wigan. These feats have not been achieved by packing up early. It will have a proper North West derby edge to it and neither manager will ask or give an inch.
Prediction: Blackburn 2 – 1 Wigan