Wigan Athletic secured an eighth straight season of Premier League football with a hard-earned 1-0 victory at Blackburn, a result which relegated the home side into the bargain. A late Antolin Alcaraz header was enough in the end, although the visitors had numerous opportunities to secure their safety on the night.
The equation for both teams was simple. For Wigan, simply avoiding defeat would be enough, although a win would rubber stamp their safety. For Blackburn, nothing other than a win would do. But the home side never really got to grips with the game and the task at hand throughout a night plagued by torrential rain. Wigan had the majority of the possession and the best of the chances in a cagey first half.
At the interval there was drama when Blackburn manager Steve Kean stopped the Wigan players from taking to the pitch claiming defender Gael Givet had a heart problem in the dressing room. Bizarrely, it turned out he simply had a hamstring injury and wanted to be replaced! This incident, on top of two first half pitch invaders (one of whom was a chicken!) only added to what was a rather odd night in Blackburn!
Blackburn will rightly claim they should have been awarded a second half penalty when Junior Hoilett was felled by Emmerson Boyce. It would have been harsh on the visitors to go behind in a game they had dominated throughout. Later, Victor Moses had a great opportunity to put Wigan ahead but his effort was parried by Robinson. The loose ball fell at the feet of James McCarthy but he too was denied.
Wigan could have had a penalty of their own when Victor Moses was body-checked in the box having gone round two Blackburn defenders. Having done all the hard work it seemed impossible to think that Moses would want to earn a penalty. However, referee Mark Clattenburg believed Moses was looking for the decision and issued a yellow card in his direction.
As the game went on you felt it was only a matter of time that a goal would come. Blackburn went in search of that all-important goal in the second half and, as they did so, they looked vulnerable on the break as Wigan broke in numbers.
The winning goal came from a corner. Antolin Alcaraz rose highest above Petrovic and his powerful header was too much for Paul Robinson. The former England stopper did his best to keep it out but he was already behind the line when he parried the ball onto the back of the defender stood by the post and the goal was given to send the travelling hordes into delirium. The goal came so late in the game that even if Blackburn were to somehow get themselves an equaliser Wigan’s safety would still have been secured.
The final whistle was greeted with a chorus of boos from the home fans, and untold screams of joy and delight from the visitors. It’s fair to say the contrast of emotions between both sets of supporters was vast!
I felt for the Blackburn fans. They’ve been through a lot. They’re a proud, family club and a lot of similarities can be drawn between ourselves and them. Unfortunately though, the club that Jack built has been torn down by a group of clueless Indians who have ripped the heart out of the club.
Meanwhile it was one of the greatest nights in the history of this proud football club. Every year we’re tipped to go down without a whimper and every year we prove the so-called experts wrong and stay up against the odds. The challenge now will be to take this form into next season, secure safety as early as possible and push for a finish as high as possible. The players and the club have shown what they’re capable of now, so why not?
At the start of the campaign Martinez went on record stating that the aim for the season was to obtain more points than the club picked up last season. He would have felt that was an impossible task after Paul Scharner’s equaliser at the DW in March left Wigan on just 22 points from 29 games. Eight games on and the club have hit the magical 40-point mark. A win against already-relegated Wolves on Sunday will leave the club on 43 points, one more than we picked up last season!
Wigan’s turnaround this season has been nothing short of remarkable. To have won six of the last eight games when it really matters most, and against a high calibre of opposition, is no mean feat. Only Newcastle United can boast six wins from eight currently. Not even the two title-chasing Manchester clubs have picked up as many wins in their last eight games as Wigan Athletic have.
The survival is all the more impressive from a club who lost eight games on the bounce in the middle of the season, leaving the club looking totally doomed. It’s the third time Wigan have stayed up after losing eight straight matches in a Premier League season. Add that to the fact we didn’t win a single home match for seven months and you can really see why this great escape is right up there with the best of them.
Away form has been a key factor. The club has picked as many wins on the road this season as Chelsea. That’s hardly the sort of form of a bad team! And in amongst all the other crazy stats, this was Wigan’s first ever win at Ewood Park! It’s been a long time coming!
I have a secret to tell our relegation rivals. We’ve been playing with twelve men for several weeks. Indeed, much of the credit for this great escape must go to our amazing supporters. We get stick from numerous angles because we “only” get 18,000 through the gates every week, but the passion, commitment and support of our fans never wavers.
The spirit and togetherness on display from our fans when it’s really mattered has been replicated by the players on the pitch and that’s what has got us over the line. The focal point of that on the pitch is skipper Gary Caldwell, who for me has been the central figure in all this. He’s a true leader of men and I will be absolutely astounded if he’s not named Wigan’s player of the season on Wednesday night.
Personally I cannot wait for the final game of the season on Sunday against Wolves. To finally have a game where we can relax and enjoy the game and show our thanks to the team is something we’ve craved for a long time. It will also be nice to be able to celebrate survival with the players after they were forced to withdraw from the pitch at Ewood Park.
For Blackburn, they will be aiming to bounce straight back to the Premier League, but unless there’s a change of ownership, manager and a change of attitude at the club I wouldn’t be counting my chickens!
Blackburn Rovers: Robinson, Orr (Goodwillie 80), Lowe, Dann, Givet (Petrovic 46), Martin Olsson, Dunn (Marcus Olsson 44), Pedersen, Hoilett, Modeste, Yakubu
Unused Subs: Kean, Formica, Nzonzi, Rochina,
Wigan Athletic: Al Habsi, Boyce, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa, Beausejour, McArthur, McCarthy, Maloney, Moses, Di Santo (Sammon 85)
Unused Subs: Pollitt, Watson, Diame, Gomez, Crusat, Rodallega
Goals: Alcaraz 87
Starman: James McArthur