Blackburn Rovers make the short trip to Wigan to contest their third Premiership fixture in a week. After two battling displays against Liverpool and Middlesbrough, Mark Hughes will be hoping that his troops can muster another solid display to make it three wins in a row and four out of five.
If Mark Hughes` blue and white army can leave the JJB Stadium victorious for the second time in their history then a return to the top half of the table would be a distinct possibility.
Paul Jewell will feel that his side have the advantage of being fresher after Wigan`s fixture with Watford was cut short due to the torrential rain that has had an adverse affect on most of the country.
Wigan have been struggling of late, even at home where they are normally difficult to breakdown. Only three sides have left the JJB empty handed this season and Hughes will be hoping that Rovers begin 2007 as they began 2006, with a win over Wigan at the JJB.
Mark Hughes on this fixture: “They haven`t completed ninety minute so thee is a bit of an advantage there so we don`t know how that will affect them. It is a little bit of a lottery as to who will cope the best, but we pride ourselves on our fitness levels and we go into the game in great confidence.”
Wigan Athletic Team News:
Paul Jewell will have to contend with the continued absence of Lee McCulloch, who serves the final game of his three match ban.
He is also without Todorov whose loan spell with the club came to an end on the 31st of December 2006. Todorov failed to make an impact during his loan spell so Jewel is likely to continue with the reinvigorated Emile Heskey up front.
Wigan from: Kirkland, Jackson, Hall, Kilbane, Cywka, Johansson, Landzaat, Heskey, Boyce, Cotterill, Skoko, Baines, De Zeeuw, Wright, Teale, Pollitt.
Player to watch: Emile Heskey
Emile Heskey will once again lead Wigan`s attack tirelessly as he has done for much of the season. He has enjoyed a mixed season, showing signs of brilliance that made him a regular England international but also failing to take chances when it would appear easier to score; reminding everyone just why he no longer plays for England.
Nevertheless the burly frontman generally causes problems for defences with his strength, pace and direct approach to the game. He scored with an accomplished finish at Ewood Park earlier in the season when the two teams met and Rovers will have to be wary of the damage he can cause.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Mark Hughes is likely to field the same starting eleven for the third consecutive match. The Rovers squad is starting to return to full strength and that is beginning to show on the pitch.
The only doubt is over the fitness of Benni McCarthy who picked up a knock againdt Middlesbrough thanks to a hefty challenge from Jonathon Woodgate.
Rovers from: Friedel, Brown, Neill, Todd, Ooijer, Gray, Emerton, Savage, Kerimoglu, Pedersen, Bentley, Nonda, McCarthy, Brown, Derbyshire, Mokoena, Henchoz, Peter, Khizanishvili.
Player to watch: Andre Ooijer
Andre Ooijer will have to put in a solid display against one of the Premiership`s toughest strikers, Emile Heskey. If Ooijer can come out on top in that tussle Rovers will have every chance of keeping a clean sheet and maybe sneaking a win.
Heskey`s strong and direct approach to the game will be a tough test for Ooijer who struggled earlier in the season against Heskey and other physical strikers such as Didier Drogba.
Match Facts & Stats
Wigan are yet to beat Rovers in the Premiership and have never come out on top in this fixture.
Wigan have won just once in their last nine games and come into the game on the back of a four game losing streak, if you ignore the postponed match on the 30th December.
Blackburn have won four out of their last five in the league and cup.
The last time Rovers played away they were sent packing after a 6-2 mauling at the hands of Arsenal.
In this fixture last season Steven Reid scored Rovers` goal of the season in 3-0 to Mark Hughes` men.
Mark Clattenburg will referee a Rovers game for the third time this season. So far, in his 14 matches he has produced 62 yellow cards but no reds.
Wigan will be refreshed and this will be to their benefit early on. They will attack Rovers aggressively in the opening exchanges in bid to end their bad run of form and put the game beyond Mark Hughes` men.
If Rovers can weather the storm then they will have every chance of taking something from the game. The battle between Ooijer and Heskey is vital. If Ooijer comes out on top Rovers will be able to demonstrate their attacking capabilities and put some pressure on Wigan infront of their own fans.
Both Benni McCarthy and Shabani Nonda are in red-hot form. Nonda, having scored a single goal all season, managed to find the net four times in December as Rovers started scoring again. The confidence will be high and if Rovers can create enough chances then both strikers will fancy their chances of adding to their tallies.
Rovers to sneak a 2-1 win, just as they did earlier in the season.
Rovers take Everton on January 7th 2007 in the F.A. Cup, kick off, 15:00.