Date:Saturday December 15 2007
The JJB Stadium
15th December 2007
Things have really grind to a halt at Ewood Park for Blackburn Rovers at the moment. Three successive home fixtures against beatable opposition have yielded a poor return of just three points. The frustration of this outlay is made all the more pertinent when you consider that had we beaten Aston Villa and West Ham we would currently be fourth in the table and fulfilling that early season promise.
Alas, as it is we languish in ninth and although it is far too premature to claim our season is over, we need to end this rut now.
So what better than a trip to The JJB to face Wigan - a ground that has witnessed six Rovers goals in the past too years without a response. Can the same happen again? I really wouldn`t bet on it, and I used to be a betting man!
Wigan are struggling at the moment but they are being led by former Birmingham manager Steve Bruce. He got the best out of a mediocre Brum side and so it will be fair to assume he could do the same with the current crop of flops at the JJB.
This is going to be a tough game against two sides who need to up their game. With the added spice of it being a Lancashire derby there is a strong possibility a few physical tackles could fly. Wigan need to toughen up much like Rovers did when we were in a similar predicament a few years ago. Rovers needed to tighten up at the back and maintain concentration.
If this is achieved and we don`t have a referee who still can`t get the Rovers bully-boys stereotype out of his head, then we could emerge victorious. However, it won`t be a whitewash like in recent years.
Wigan manager Steve Bruce: 'We have got four out of the next six at home and we have got to come out of the game at Derby on 15 January with 10 or 11 more points.
'If we do that we will have 20 points and then we'll give ourselves a chance of getting out of this situation.
'It is a difficult challenge ahead, we have got to arrest it quickly and get back into that pack.'
Rovers supremo Mark Hughes: 'It's up to us to work extremely hard at the weekend to overcome a Wigan side who are obviously having a poor season.
'We've got to go there and perform as we have done in most of the games we've been involved in.
'We've discussed what targets we're after in terms of points over the Christmas and new year period and the players know exactly what I expect.'
Steven Reid on his return: 'The fans and the manager have been brilliant, and I just want to repay them for their support and play as many games as I can over the coming season.'
'It's been a tough time, but I can't praise the gaffer enough for sticking by me."
Wigan are boosted by the return of Emile Heskey. The England international is a real presence in attack and has a knack of scoring against Rovers over the years. Also returning for Steve Bruce`s new look Wigan is yet-to-score-Nigerian international, Julius Aghahowa.
Finally, back in contention is Titus Bramble. There is also a chance former Rover Marcus Bent could play.
Wigan from: Kirkland, Boyce, Bramble, Taylor, Kilbane, Valencia, Scharner, Landzaat, Koumas, Bent, Heskey, Brown, Granqvist, Skoko, Cotterill, Aghahowa, Pollitt.
He puts himself about and is a real physical presence. He doesn't score enough goals but has a knack of sneaking a couple against Rovers. He will be a handful on Saturday afternoon.
News this week that Andre Ooijer is likely to be out for five weeks has been compensated by the return of club captain Ryan Nelsen. He like, David Bentley, returns from suspension to boost the Rovers stating line-up.
Also in contention for his first start in over 15 months is Steven Reid. He has made four substitute appearances this season but due to Rovers` current weakness in midfield, in terms of performance, he could start at the ground where he released that that rocket two years ago.
Hughes could switch things around in attack as well as he tries to shake things up a little. No Rovers striker has scored since the 4-2 home win against Reading.
Rovers from: Friedel, Emerton, Nelsen, Samba, Warnock, Tugay, Mokoena, Reid, Bentley, Dunn, Pedersen, Santa Cruz, McCarthy, Roberts, Brown, Savage, Berner, Derbyshire, Khizanishvili, Treacy.
It is amazing how much our defence miss Ryan Nelsen when he is absent and it was worringly how much our attacking impetus missed David Bentley. Well they are both back and will hopefully be looking to help Rovers return to winning ways.
Wigan are still looking for their first win under Steve Bruce.
If he plays, Steven Reid will be playing in his 100th game fro Rovers.
If he starts it will be Benni McCarthy's 50th start for Rovers.
Rovers have won seven of the eight league and cup meetings with Wigan.
Mark Clattenburg takes charge of his second Rovers match this seaosn. So far he has issued 36 yellow cards and three red.
This won't be an easy match and Wigan are due a win under Bruce and indeed one against Rovers so could today be the day when two birds are killed with one stone? I predict a tough one for Rovers and perhaps the run to stretch to one win in seven. Heskey's presence will cause issues so he will need to be neutralised and our strikers need to remember how to score.
Rovers play Chelsea at Ewood next Sunday.
Date:Saturday December 15 2007
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