- Wigan Athletic secured a hard-fought 0-0 draw against play-off chasing Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.
- In Shaun Maloney’s first game in charge Latics new line-up gave a good account of themselves.
- Rovers had two early chances when Ben Brereton-Diaz had a close range effort well saved by Ben Amos before Joe Rankin-Costello fired wide from a good position in the box.
- Latics threatened when Callum Lang fired just over the angle of post and crossbar and later had a strike well saved low down by Aynsley Pears.
- In a second half of few chances Rovers had a late appeal for a penalty when Jack Whatmough stumbled in the box and collided with Harry Pickering but referee Matt Donohue waved away Rovers’ appeals.
- Latics remain bottom of the Championship table but are now only three points from safety. Rovers move up to seventh just outside the play-off spots.
Maloney made six changes to the starting XI from Kolo Toure’s last game in charge. There were debuts for Martin Kelly, Omar Rekik and Daniel Sinani with Jack Whatmough, Tendayi Darikwa and Callum Lang returning to the side.
Two early Max Power corners came to nothing before Rovers had an early chance to take the lead.
A long ball over the top found Brereton-Diaz in the clear but the Chile international could only side foot a tame effort into the arms of Amos.
Latics were enjoying plenty of possession with Christ Tiehi prominent and they had a chance in the 15th minute when Lang tested the Rovers keeper with a low drive from 25 yards.
At the other end, Kelly produced a superb defensive clearance as he diverted a low cross out for a corner with two Blackburn men waiting at the far post.
Rovers then had another golden opportunity to take the lead when Rankin-Costello was free inside the box, but he dragged his shot wide of the target from a great position.
Lang then drove forward and unleashed a powerful dipping effort from 30-yards out which just cleared the angle of post and crossbar. Fifteen minutes later he went close again when he forced a good save from Pears low down at his near post.
Rovers new loan signing Sorba Thomas then had an angled strike well pushed away by Amos on 42 minutes.
A fairly even first half with Maloney’s men giving a good account of themselves.
Early in the second half Arsenal loanee Rekik stepped out of defence and drove forward winning a couple of challenges before curling an effort narrowly wide of the post. Unfortunately Rekik picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Tom Pearce soon afterwards.
Blackburn started to assert themselves and they were now enjoying more possession. Kelly once again produced some superb defending when he cleared Thomas’ dangerous cross.
Latics then had a goal ruled out as a James McClean corner was converted at the far post by Kelly, but the referee had spotted a foul on the goalkeeper by Lang.
The impressive Kelly was again in the right place at the right time as he diverted a Rovers’ cross out with a perfectly timed header under pressure.
But soon afterwards Kelly was dealt a cruel blow when his studs caught in the turf and he suffered what looked like a serious injury. Steven Caulker came on to replace him and Charlie Wyke replaced Keane.
Latics goalkeeper Amos did well on a couple of occasions to come out as a sweeper keeper and clear the danger as Rovers threatened to get in behind the Latics defence.
There were seven minutes of added time and Rovers substitute Tyler Morton curled a free-kick wide on 93 minutes and in the 96th minute the hosts had a penalty appeal when Pickering went down after Whatmough had stumbled. The referee waved away Rovers appeals and Shaun Maloney’s men claimed a creditable draw.
It’s very early days in Shaun Maloney’s Latics management career but his new team made a promising start at Ewood Park.
On a difficult pitch Latics had matched their higher placed opponents in most areas. It was notable that they had kept a clean sheet for the first time since they had defeated Blackburn at home on October 1st last year.
New signing Martin Kelly was outstanding in defence and it was so unfortunate for him to be seriously injured. It looks unlikely that he will play again in the near future. Omar Rekik and Daniel Sinani made promising debuts but Rekik also limped off injured.
Maloney will once again have to reshuffle his defence for a massive fixture against fellow strugglers Huddersfield Town at the DW Stadium on Saturday. It is the proverbial six-pointer with the Terriers only one point above Latics in the table.
If Maloney’s men can secure the vital three points Latics’ fans will believe that they can once again pull off a great escape.
Post match comments
Speaking afterwards, Maloney was pleased with large parts of his side’s performance after they came away from Ewood Park with a hard-earned point.
“I was delighted with the mentality and the spirit,” he said.
“I was really happy with how we played in the first half at times and in the second half, we had to defend. Blackburn put so many players forward, and we had to dig deep, which is what we did.
“A big shout out to the supporters because it’s in those moments when we need them the most, and they were excellent tonight.
“In the last three months, we’ve conceded a lot of goals, and I thought we defended very well. There are things we’ve got to improve on.
“I’m really happy with the mentality of the group, but I know we can do better in the second half.
“The games that we are going to have to defend like that, but I’m really happy with the spirit that they showed.”
January arrivals Omar Rekik, Martin Kelly and Danel Sinani all started and gave a really good account of themselves at Ewood Park, though both defenders had to be forced off through injury in the second period. Maloney revealed that both players will be assessed by the Club’s medical department.
“Omar (Rekik) showed some real quality on the ball and had to defend as well. Hopefully, he’s okay, and we’ll find out tomorrow but Martin (Kelly) doesn’t look good at all.
“I’m devastated about it because he’s been outstanding, and a real leader. On the pitch tonight, he was outstanding and made a match-saving tackle.
“It doesn’t look great, and we’ll see how it is. I’m gutted for him, as he’s been immense.”
A point gained? It has to be said that Rovers are woeful. Pool need a win tonight!
A better performance from us and there’s certainly more optimism now that Toure has gone. Interesting to see what happens tonight and on Saturday when we play Huddersfield.
Last night’s evidence suggests that Huddersfield, whilst having a few decent players, are there for the taking. If we started our best players instead of bringing them on when it was too late and after GM was sent off, there would have been a far greater chance of victory. HTFC look vulnerable whilst MF remains in charge.
In the current circumstances a draw was the best result for us. We defeated Huddersfield earlier in the season but so much has changed since then. A massive game for both teams.