x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Six goals in the 'six pointer' between Wigan and Blackburn

With Blackburn trailing 3-2, their goalkeeper, at fault for what would have been Wigan's winner, went forward for a corner. Going to head the ball, Paul Robinson was kicked in the cheek by David Jones. Yakubu nervelessly converted the 99th-minute penalty that earned Blackburn a point.

Victor Moses of Wigan is tackled by Steven N'Zonzi of Blackburn. The two sides battled to a 3-3 draw in a 'relegation six-pointer'.
Victor Moses of Wigan is tackled by Steven N'Zonzi of Blackburn. The two sides battled to a 3-3 draw in a 'relegation six-pointer'.

As anniversary parties go, this must rank among the most eventful. A year to the day since Venky's completed their takeover of Blackburn Rovers, their manager left the pitch punching the air, celebrating an unlikely leveller in an exhilarating, extraordinary game.

A match of controversy and clangers came to a suitably dramatic conclusion. With Blackburn trailing 3-2, their goalkeeper, at fault for what would have been Wigan's winner, went forward for a corner. Going to head the ball, Paul Robinson was kicked in the cheek by David Jones. Yakubu nervelessly converted the 99th-minute penalty that earned Blackburn a point.

The draw kept them off the foot of the Premier League and ensured Wigan remain there in what could be viewed as an early relegation six-pointer. Roberto Martinez's side arrested a run of eight successive league defeats but, as the manager said: "It feels like a defeat."

In the long run, it could be a damaging day for both sides, but Blackburn's immediate emotion was of joy on Saturday, Steve Kean seeing the comeback proof of their spirit.

"I think that's our lads," the embattled coach said.

Not that the Indian co-owners were there to see it.

The brothers Venkatesh and Balaji Rao had left at half time, pre-empting the vocal choruses of "we want Venky's out."

Yet high drama is not the perfect occasion for protest: there was too much else to occupy the mind.

Barely a minute in, Wigan's plight was both explained and exacerbated by the concession of an all-too-avoidable goal. Failing to clear Robinson's goal kick may not have mattered had Gary Caldwell reacted to Steven Nzonzi's subsequent header. Instead, he hesitated, Yakubu accelerated, and he lifted the ball neatly over Ali Al Habsi.

Wigan's response was swift.

Seven minutes in, Jordi Gomez rifled in a half-volley from the edge of the box. While the Rovers defence advanced, Conor Sammon remained behind them.

Was he interfering with play? The referee, Andre Marriner, thought not and, as he had denied Wigan a cast-iron penalty two minutes earlier when Morten Gamst Pedersen fouled Victor Moses, Athletic were entitled to argue that justice was done.

After Pedersen's ferocious free kick rebounded off the post, Wigan led through yet another goal that owed much to deficient defending. Nzonzi, initially marking Caldwell, was distracted and left the Scot on his own to head in Jones's corner

A goal down, Blackburn were soon a man short. Already cautioned for fouling James McCarthy, David Dunn hacked down Mohamed Diame and departed. "I thought he got a bit of the ball," Kean said.

It was not to be Marriner's most contentious moment, however. That came on the hour. Assuming Yakubu had rolled a corner to him, rather than merely putting the ball down in the quadrant, Pedersen ran infield and crossed.

Junior Hoilett applied the final touch from a yard out.

In effect, Pedersen had taken the corner to himself.

"I don't know what to say," Martinez said. "If I am going to be honest, I am going to get into trouble and it is going to cost me a lot of money. For a referee to allow that is really hurtful."

His players were too dumbstruck, or too polite, to protest.

Instead, they mounted the right sort of response. After a brilliant saving challenge from Steve Gohouri after Yakubu had rounded Al Habsi, Jones almost scored. Then Albert Crusat did, opening his Wigan account with a shot that Robinson should have saved.

"I felt we deserved at least something at the end," Kean said.

Wigan believed they merited victory.

It is an argument that, come the second anniversary of Venky's' ownership, they may be reopening in the Championship.

 

sports@thenational.ae