REPORT: BLACKBURN 4 WIGAN ATHLETIC 3
Latics finished their regular Sky Bet Championship campaign on the wrong end of a seven-goal thriller against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park with the hosts edging the affair 4-3.
Ivan Ramis, James McClean and Nicky Maynard all got on the scoresheet, though a double from Rudy Gestede, as well as strikes from Tom Cairney and Jordan Rhodes, sent Rovers, who narrowly missed out on making the top six, to all three points.
Uwe Rosler’s side will now turn their attentions to Friday’s play-off first leg against QPR as Latics look for an immediate return to the Premier League.
Rosler made seven changes from Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Birmingham City as key players were rested ahead of the play-off semi-final with Ramis returning from a hamstring problem picked up in the FA Cup with Budweiser semi-final against Arsenal whilst Stephen Crainey, Josh McEachran, Roger Espinoza and McClean were also restored to the starting XI.
Jack Collison and Nicky Maynard, both play-off winners in the past with West Ham United, also returned.
Blackburn were unchanged from their 3-1 win at Charlton Athletic last time out with Jason Lowe and David Dunn returning to the bench.
Latics started brightly and saw the majority of possession in the opening five minutes with McClean forcing an early save from Rovers keeper Paul Robinson after cutting in from the left and firing a right-footed shot towards the former England international’s bottom right-hand corner.
However, despite Latics’ early dominance, it was Rovers who were presented with the first clear-cut chance to open the scoring as Rhodes was denied by a brave block from Ramis after picking the ball up in space eight yards out Joshua King’s cross.
The reprieve lasted only a minute, though, as Collison was dispossessed in midfield by Cairney who carried the ball 20 yards before firing into Scott Carson’s bottom right-hand corner.
Latics were level just two minutes later as Martyn Waghorn’s corner was flicked on by McClean before Maynard headed against the bar and Ramis was on hand to head the rebound home at the back post.
A bizarre minute was ended as Rovers regained the initiative through Gestede; the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month for April latched onto Craig Conway’s pull-back and side-stepped before curling low to Carson’s right.
Maynard tried to force a fourth goal in the space of three minutes shortly after as he shot from 20 yards forcing Robinson into a low save.
Rovers thought they’d doubled their advantage as the half hour approached, though Rhodes’ header, from Cairney’s cross, was ruled out for offside.
Waghorn then forced a goal-line clearance from Michael Keane as the visitors looked to instigate a quick counter attack.
Rhodes’ movement was always a threat and he forced a fine save from Carson ten minutes before the break from another Cairney set-piece.
Again, though, the reprieve was only brief as Cairney again provided the assist, this time for Gestede to head into Carson’s left-hand corner from the centre of the box.
McClean had a superb opportunity to immediately cut the deficit, though the Republic of Ireland international fired wide of Robinson’s left-hand post on the angle after being played in by Maynard.
Maynard then twice went close as the frantic affair continued; first the West Ham loanee pivoted on the penalty spot and saw Grant Hanley deflect his shot wide before he hooked past Robinson from the resulting corner only to see Hanley deny him again with a goal-line clearance.
To Latics’ credit, they reacted to Rovers’ lethal attacks with continuous efforts of their own, Waghorn the next to go close, though he fired narrowly over from 25 yards.
Gary Caldwell made a good run to connect to Waghorn’s set-piece in first-half injury time, though he mis-timed his header harmlessly over the bar when well placed.
The second-half started with less space for either attack with King’s half-volley forcing a low save from Carson for the first real chance of the half.
Latics were back in the game as the hour approached with McEachran’s cross deflected into the path of McClean who powerfully volleyed home from eight yards.
Waghorn was presented with a glorious opportunity to level for Latics as he latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the area before shooting high and wide on the angle.
Rovers knew goals were needed if they were to stand a chance of making the play-offs and Gestede headed against the bar from another set-piece as Latics rode their luck.
Latics continued their press for an equaliser as Rob Kiernan volleyed over when Collison’s reverse pass was headed into his path 12 yards out.
Cairney, who was the stand out player for the hosts, forced another fine stop from Carson as the game entered the final 15 minutes with the former Liverpool stopper scrambling to his left to tip over the bar after Cairney looked to have curled in from 25 yards.
Again Carson was on hand to deny Rovers doubling their advantage on the counter as he got down low to deny Gestede’s low drive from inside the area.
However, he could do little to prevent Blackburn’s fourth as Rhodes headed home from close range from Cairney’s free-kick.
The end-to-end afternoon at Ewood Park took another twist three minutes from time as Maynard picked the ball up 25 yards from goal and, after shifting the ball onto his right foot, fired into Robinson’s right-hand corner.
Robinson made a superb save to deny Latics an equaliser a minute later as substitute Shaun Maloney made a good run to meet McClean’s cross only be denied by a fine diving save from the former Tottenham man.