Wigan 0.v.3 Rovers
The JJB Stadium
1st January 2007. 15:00
It`s three wins out of three as Rovers begin 2007 in exactly the same way as they began 2006, beating Wigan 3-0 at the JJB Stadium.
The scoreline is an unfair reflection on the game as a whole. Wigan started strongly and could have had the lead after just ten seconds when Emile Heskey met Dave Cotterill`s cross.
Heskey was proving to be a real handful for the Rovers central pairing of Zurab Khizanishvili and Stephane Henchoz. He also connected with a Leighton Baines cross but could only divert the ball wide of the post.
Wigan continued to dominate throughout the half with Skoko forcing a smart save from Friedel with stinging 20-yard strike.
As conditions got worse so did the fluency of the game. Both sets of players were looking weary after the hectic Christmas schedule and the game descended into a scrappy and bitty contest.
Rovers looked lethargic and almost casual thus failing to muster an attack of note until the 39th minute.
Morten Gamst Pedersen had switched to the right hand side of midfield and he was hacked down for his troubles. He promptly whipped in one of his trademark in swinging free kicks from the right and Khizanishvili rose the highest to glance a header past Chris Kirkland.
Replays seem to suggest that Emile Heskey may go down as the goalscorer, which is unfortunate and sadly ironic because if anyone was going to open the scoring in this drab affair it was going to be him.
Rovers controlled the game through to half-time with little threat on their goal.
Both sets of players appeared for the second half ready to do battle again in torrential rain.
Wigan began the second half as they had begun the first, on the front foot and maintaining possession. However, for all of their ball retention and expended effort, they couldn`t generate any clear openings in order to bring themselves level.
Matt Derbyshire had replaced Shabani Nonda at half time after the Congolese hitman picked up a groin strain. His introduction turned out to be an inspired move by Mark Hughes. The young Englishman had been looking dangerous recently appearing as a late substitute and he emphasised his predatory instincts in the 58th minute.
An excellent chipped ball from Lucas Neill found Gamst in the area and the Norwegian displayed excellent vision by heading the ball back across goal and into the path of Derbyshire who volleyed home his first senior goal for the club.
The second goal killed off any remaining threat from Wigan who continued to work hard but cut dejected and forlorn figures in the poor conditions. Dark rain clouds were a permanent fixture over the JJB Stadium all afternoon and they summed up the mood permeating the air at Wigan.
Leighton Baines launched a free-kick high over the bar, an effort that would have been more applicable to their rugby counterparts as they tried in vain to fashion an opening.
The game petered out and was put beyond doubt in the 76th minute when Rovers were awarded a penalty. It was a dubious decision that went against Fitz Hall, who had been adjudged to have handled, but with so many similar decisions going against Rovers this season it was refreshing that one went in their favour.
Benni McCarthy stepped up and banished all memories of his woeful penalty against Bolton earlier in the season by slotting the ball home with great aplomb.
The 3-0 scoreline flattered Rovers on another typically dull Lancashire afternoon. The game itself never really matched up to it`s billing of a Lancashire hot-pot of a derby; it was cold and miserable, especially if you`re a Wigan fan.
He set up two of the goals and was a constant danger from midfield.