Belfast Telegraph

Chickens come home to roost as Blackburn are relegated

By Tim Rich

Blackburn Rovers 0 Wigan Athletic 1: The skies were black and forbidding, the rain incessant. It was a night for a reckoning. The mood as Blackburn went down was as sullen as the weather. Here in December after a defeat by Bolton, Ewood Park had directed every shred of venom at the figure of Steve Kean.

Now, when the relegation Kean's critics had all predicted for him came calling, they did not appear to have the energy to hound him until Antolin Alcaraz's header from Jean Beausejour's corner squeezed past Paul Robinson. Then, suddenly, the stadium appeared ready for a lynching. Alcaraz's header ensured that Wigan, a little club wonderfully managed by Roberto Martinez, will spend an eighth season in the Premier League. Their ability as escapologists marks them out as the Southampton of the 21st century and Martinez as one of the managers of the year.

The feelings of his chairman, Dave Whelan, who played for Blackburn in the 1960 FA Cup final, will however have been mixed. It is hard to imagine any club that would employ Kean again in a hurry. His responsibility for the disasters that have overtaken Blackburn runs very deep.

It says something that the footballers on whom he had spent £20m were mostly on the bench. Bar one flurry midway through the second half, Blackburn made little attempt to win what should have been the game of their lives. The night required the kitchen sink to be thrown at Wigan; Blackburn managed a couple of spatulas.

Kean, sooner or later will lose his job. However, once his contract is settled, he will walk away a millionaire. The same cannot be said of the people in the ticket office, in corporate hospitality and who have to sell a ruined, relegated club to advertisers. They will have no parachute payments and Blackburn in 2012 is an awful place to find yourself without work.

There had been plenty of predictions that this would be the night when all of the home team's chickens came home to roost but few expected one on the pitch. Seven minutes into the game, one, wrapped in a Blackburn flag, was released from the Darwen End and wandered around the Wigan penalty area as aimlessly as some of the home side's strikers before Ali Al-Habsi got his gloves to it and an assistant steward carried the bird off.

For Venky's, India's biggest poultry producer, this is probably the only positive publicity their products have had since they bought out the Walker Trust. At a stroke it provided Wigan's keeper with more work than Blackburn had given Brad Friedel when, desperately needing victory at Tottenham, they had somehow failed to muster a shot of any description on goal.

Here, they did at least attempt to score. Anthony Modeste, David Dunn and Morten Gamst Pedersen all aimed shots in the vague direction of the target. They seldom, however, came to terms with a Wigan side that, unlike Blackburn, a club with far greater resources and history, has managed to transform itself when it absolutely mattered.

Martinez's side were slick, positive and relaxed, which, given they had just beaten Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle, they were entitled to be.

There were not, however, the weight of chances their easy dominance might have entitled them to. Victor Moses, as he has in these final furlongs, provided Wigan's sharpest edge, wriggling past Scott Dann and forcing Paul Robinson to save at his near post. Then, deeper into the first half, he headed a fine cross from Franco di Santo across the face of the Blackburn goal. Had there been anyone to follow it up, the night might have been put out of its misery.

Just after the interval, a rather portly fan ran on to the pitch and threw his season ticket at the improbable figure of Martinez before being wearily arrested by a lone policeman. This begged the question that the protester either did not know who managed his club or that he was attempting to parody some of Blackburn's shooting. Frankly, it would have been better to have put the chicken back on.

Eventually, Blackburn managed to work the opposition goalkeeper as Yakubu, who had been voted the club's player of a dreadful season, saw his shot blocked on the line. It was not saved by the keeper but it still represented Blackburn's first shot on target in 142 minutes of sometimes desperate football.

Then came what seemed to be the critical moment as, with the ball bobbling around the Wigan area, Emmerson Boyce fouled Junior Hoilett. The referee, Mark Clattenburg, waited an age before waving play on.It looked a penalty but Kean will have looked up to the sodden skies and seen only pagan gods.

Match facts



Scorer: Wigan: Alcaraz 87

Substitutes: Blackburn Marcus Olsson (Dunn, 44), Petrovic (Givet, h-t), Goodwillie (Orr, 80). Wigan Sammon (Di Santo, 85).

Booked: Blackburn Petrovic, Pedersen. Wigan Moses

Man of the match Beausejour. Match rating 6/10.

Possession: Blackburn 45% Wigan 55%.

Attempts on target: Blackburn 7 Wigan 9.

Referee M Clattenburg (Co Durham).

Attendance 26,144.

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