Blackburn Rovers have a new hero; and it`s not Benni McCarthy. Step up Jason Brown. His second half display, and debut, was made to look even better by Wigan`s villain of the piece, Chris Kirkland. Rovers have now stretched their unbeaten run to six games following this, their fourth victory in a row, in a pulsating encounter.
Rovers were punished for a lack of early concentration that has crept into performances of late. Emerson Boyce did well down the right before finding Emile Heskey in the centre. He produced a crisp finish at the near post for only his second goal since a £5million summer transfer.
This temporarily galvanised Rovers into action with Benni McCarthy going close on three occasions. In fairness he should have done better with his last two efforts, screaming the ball wide when he had time in the area and then shooting straight at Kirkland when in the clear. This would be the beginning of an afternoon battle between McCarthy and Kirkland.
However, after a brief period of dominance the game became a little scrappy with the majority of the play being contested in the middle of the park.
Rovers looked EURO-weary just as they had done two weeks ago against Manchester City; and just like two weeks ago Rovers would have been dead and buried by half-time but for some wayward finishing from Wigan.
Henri Camara`s pace was causing problems for Rovers back four and he went agonisingly close with a low drilled effort.
Antonio Valencia, a target for Rovers last summer, also went close after engineering an opportunity for himself. Rovers were well off the pace but managed to draw level through a well-worked move.
A ball to the edge of the box from Rovers` Lucas, I want to play up front, Neill was smartly dummied by David Bentley, rolling instead to Francis Jeffers. He lay on a precision pass to Bentley, who had continued his run, who curled a delightful effort past the despairing dive of Kirkland.
The whistle sounded and the players marched off. Rovers 1-1 Wigan. It was perhaps an unfair reflection on a match that Wigan had edged.
Rovers were dealt a huge blow at half-time when it was announced that Jason Brown was going to replace Brad Friedel in goal who had picked up a knock.
However, Rovers began the second half in rampaging fashion, tearing through Wigan in a relentless 20 minutes of attacking football. They were certainly making up for a lacklustre first half, much like they did against Man City.
Jeffers, clearly buoyed after his role in the goal, got the better of Arjan De Zeeuw early on but saw his effort blocked.
McCarthy was once again thwarted by Kirkland as their battle intensified. It was also becoming apparent McCarthy and Rovers were embroiled in an up-hill battle against the officials.
A number of dubious off sides went against McCarthy as the officials were at least remaining consistent with their farcical decisions, the worst of which had arrived in the first half when Jeffers was flagged when inadvertently put through on goal by a Wigan defender. Indeed everyone in blue and white was baffled.
Rovers looked the most likely side to score again, denied only by a number of last ditch tackles and interceptions from Wigan and a handful of excellent saves by Kirkland. His save from Robbie Savage`s free-kick in the 56th minute was the pick of the bunch.
As they reached the mid-way point of the second half, Rovers began to demonstrate signs of fatigue. A few errors crept in and Wigan were once again menacing on the break.
The game had needed someone to make a difference and seeing as most of the players looked reluctant to oblige, Howard Webb intervened. He penalised Andre Ooijer for a foul on Emile Heskey in the area and Wigan had a chance from the spot to regain the lead against the run of play.
Substitute Svetoslav Todorov, who had already scored against Rovers this season for Portsmouth, stepped up but meekly struck the ball allowing debutant, Jason Brown to palm the ball back into the path of Todorov. His follow up effort was just as bad, allowing Brown to save again.
The heroics of Rovers` debutant received resounding instant acclaim from the majority of the 17,859 fans as the chant; ‘are you Friedel in disguise` reverberated around Ewood Park.
The game then exploded into an end to end free for all. Once again the officials contrived to deny Rovers. Having earlier awarded a penalty and booked Ooijer, Mr. Webb conveniently over-looked a blatant pull on Roberts` shirt inside the area. Efforts were darted in from both sides but it was Wigan who came undone. In the tense cauldron that had been simmering Wigan`s ‘keeper Chris Kirkland was the one who lost his head.
A long ball over the top from Neill in the 81st minute released both McCarthy and Jason Roberts (who had replaced Jeffers in the 70th minute) against De Zeeuw. Kirkland came haring out of his goal to assist but Roberts beat him to the ball as Kirkland embarrasingly volleyed nothing but air. Roberts instinctively nudged the ball onto McCarthy at full stretch.
The rest, they say, is history. Rovers gained the lead for the first time, a lead they wouldn`t relinquish.
In fact it was Rovers who came the closest to finding the net again as Kirkland was caught out having gone up for a corner but Roberts failed to score when he should have done better.
So Rovers recorded their fourth straight victory and in the process stretched their unbeaten run to six games. Hughes will be pleased with the battling display that the players produced.
Hughes told Radio Rovers afterwards: “It was some game all round. We created great chances and a number of one-v-ones that on another day could have gone in and it could have been more comprehensive.
“Overall I`m obviously delighted, we`ve had a fantastic month and we`ve finished off in the right manner. We had a great night here on Thursday and possibly this may well have topped it.
“I think the crowd sense that something here is happening and they are all part of it.“
Soundly beaten by Heskey and replaced at half-time after picking up a knock.
Looked good again. His long ball over the top brought about the winner.
A quieter came from the other impressive Aussie. Looks comfortable though at right back.
Excellent recently but conceded his second penalty of the season and picked up another yellow.
A couple of errors but generally looked solid.
Showed creativity, pace and an ability to finish when scoring. A good goal and a good contribution all afternoon.
Was a threat but a tad subdued at times. Links up very well with Neill.
All action and energy and is instrumental in the middle of the park. Unlucky with a lovely free-kick.
Failed to have an impact as much as he did on Thursday.
Worked hard and well. Links up with the whole of the team well. A very intelligent player.
He’s getting better. A little off the pace at time to time but just needs that goal to bring back his luck.
Works very well with McCarthy. He too just needs a goal. Did well to set up McCarthy for the winner.
Instant hero with the penalty save. Made a couple of other decent stops too.
Worked hard to break up play which is what he does best.