There was a lot riding on the Blackburn-Wigan game last Monday at Ewood Park – two teams fighting for their lives down at the bottom, striving for survival in the top flight. In truth, it turned out to be nothing more than we all expected – Blackburn huffed and puffed without providing a real threat and Wigan, as they have done for weeks now, found their killer instinct when it really mattered, scoring one goal to send Rovers into the second tier of English football. The table states that only four places separate the two clubs at the time of writing but, on recent form, the gap is seemingly much bigger in terms of both belief and ability.
As so often is the case with Wigan Athletic since their promotion to the Premier League in 2005, they leave their best football until the last few months of the season and this particular campaign has been no exception. Martinez’s men were bottom of the table as recently as March when, at the time, Rovers defeated Sunderland 2-0 at home to climb to the lofty heights of 16th. Since then a run of six wins in eight games has propelled the Latics to safety – a landmark successfully reached at Ewood Park with Antolin Alcaraz’s late header. Their run of form has included wins over Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and credit must go to manager Roberto Martinez who has kept to his principles, always insisting that Wigan keep the ball on the deck and play sharp, incisive passing football.
Their form and points total in the last month or so has been in stark contrast to their neighbours only 25 miles east of the county. In a season dogged with protests, surreal management from the club’s top brass and a manager who has been constantly in the firing line, practically since he walked into the job, Rovers fans will be simply happy that it’s over and they’ve been put out of their misery. Devastated by relegation and the financial impact it can have on the club, sure, but quietly pleased that hopefully it will bring about a change of managerial personnel. The team’s form on the pitch has suffered, only very intermittently have they enjoyed a spell of good form and even then, it was on very rare occasions. A number of key players departed the club in January – Chris Samba, Ryan Nelson, Brett Emerton to name but a few. More should follow in the summer as the club gets set for life in the Championship for the first time in 11 years. A chicken draped in a Rovers flag waltzed onto the pitch during Monday’s defeat – a classic example of the bizarre and ultimately disappointing campaign Blackburn have endured.
Steve Kean, a man who has kept his dignity and grace throughout, despite constant calls from supporters for him to be axed, should do the honourable thing and resign now. He has taken the club from the Premier League into the second tier and has failed in his mission of wanting to keep them up. If the fans were against him initially, it would be ten times as much now. A fresh start is needed, as well as new investment. On the contrary for Wigan, owner Dave Whelan – a man who has continually kept faith with Martinez – should reward his manager with a new contract and a small kitty with which to fine-tune his squad this summer. It’s the very least that the humble Spaniard deserves after seeing out an ultimately satisfactory season for the Latics. They will be over the moon with the relative mediocrity of 15th place and who knows what could happen next season? Top ten maybe?
Smaller Lancashire clubs, Preston, Blackpool et al could learn a thing or two on how to run things from Wigan Athletic – a club small in stature but quietly big on ambition and footballing values. Sadly, less could be learned from the Indian owners Venky’s over at Blackburn – relegation has rubber-stamped what has been a wretched season for them and if they remain in charge, you wouldn’t bet against them sinking even further. It’s sad to see them both go in opposite directions but a startling example of how football clubs should and shouldn’t be run.
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