Games against Blackburn Rovers have never been easy. Neither was this one. This Rovers team was well organised and strong physically, but they also possessed enough flair to cause some worries for the Wigan defence. Their manager, Tony Mowbray, clearly did his homework beforehand, his team’s tactics diminishing Wigan’s creative threats, leading to a scrappy game in conditions that were far from perfect. A goalless draw resulted.
In the season prior to this match Blackburn had committed an average of around 11 fouls per game, with 10 committed against them. Wigan’s average was 11 committed, 13 against. The figures for yesterday’s game reveal that Rovers gave away 21 fouls, Latics 13.
So, Rovers committed almost twice as many fouls than their average. Many of them were conceded in the midfield, Sam Morsy and Nick Powell being particular targets. The net result was to dampen Wigan’s creative play, preventing moves developing, disrupting the game, making fluent passing movements unlikely.
Despite a controversial red card for Elliott Bennett after 58 minutes, Latics just could not find a way past Rovers’ resolute defence. Paul Cook summed it up after the game by saying; “Although we had a lot of the ball, we never really opened Blackburn up like we wanted to.”
Let’s look at some points arising from the game.
The quality of refereeing
Following the expulsion of Bennett with his second yellow card of the game, Rovers fans chanted “You don’t know what you’re doing”. The Wigan contingent might well have echoed their views, particularly in the first half, as the referee seemingly permitted Rovers to systematically foul Wigan’s key players.
In the referee’s defence it could be said that a derby like this is never going to be an easy game to handle. Moreover, referees in League 1 tend to give players the benefit of the doubt in challenges that would be often be penalised in the Championship division.
However, they have an obligation to stop systematic fouling, which Wigan have suffered not only in this game, but in others prior to it this season. Nick Powell perhaps sometimes makes a meal out of the challenges he receives, but too often this season he has not been able to show his full range of skills because of persistently negative physical challenges against him.
Blackburn are promotion rivals
Following relegation from the Championship, Blackburn had a clear-out of players. However, Mowbray has pieced together a useful squad that will surely challenge for a promotion spot this season. As the new players continue to gel with their teammates we can expect them to get stronger and stronger.
Jacobs is a key player
Michael Jacobs can add dynamism to Wigan’s game by his willingness to run at defenders at full throttle. His running creates room for his teammates. But it was an off-day for the player and Latics suffered as a result. So often he seemed content to make a short pass to Callum Elder to cross the ball into the box. The element of surprise was lost.
But perhaps our expectations for Jacobs are too high. Can we really expect the player to provide that degree of high energy running and commitment on a match-by-match basis?
Morsy avoided provocation
Like Nick Powell, Sam Morsy was also subject to particular attention by the opposition. Were Blackburn trying to muffle his creative talents from deep midfield or hoping to provoke him into retaliation for the treatment he was receiving? Despite his lack of control in prior matches, leading to a string of yellow cards, Morsy showed patience and resilience by not retaliating and trying to get on with his game.
Shrewsbury lose at last
The Shrews 1-0 defeat at Peterborough leaves Latics just one point off first place after 16 games played. It has been a wonderful start to the season by Shrewsbury – but can they keep it up in the same way that another unfancied team, Burton Albion, did a couple of years ago?
Over the course of a season the quality of the squad tends to be the most important factor. Wigan certainly have a strong squad, which is well balanced except for cover for the right back position. It remains a priority for the January transfer window. It remains to be seen whether Shrewsbury have the depth of squad to match over the course of the season.
Are Blackburn Rovers more likely to be a threat? They gained a draw at the New Meadow in late September through a late Bradley Dack equaliser. An interesting statistic is that, unlike the encounter on Saturday, that game produced a total of only 15 fouls from the two teams, with the Shrews conceding 8.