Wigan bowed out of this season’s Worthington Cup with Graeme Souness’ Blackburn Rovers proving to be a bridge too far for Paul Jewell’s men.




Cole 16, 80

Rovers arrived at the JJB with a full strength squad showing that they meant business and that they weren’t going to underestimate the challenge from their hosts.

Jewell, as expected, pick an identical 16 to the one that had beaten Oldham at the weekend with youngster Leighton Baines continuing at left back in place of the injured Steve McMillan.

Wigan started well and were pressuring the Blackburn goal with only a minute on the clock when Neil Roberts nodded a forward ball down to strike partner Nathan Ellington who cleverly chested it into the path of midfielder Tony Dinning but the former Wolves man’s first time volley flew wide of the mark.

Another Wigan attack was halted moments later when Ellington was pulled up for handball as he attempted to control a long throw into the penalty box.

Blackburn’s first real chance of the game came as the clock ticked over the 8 minute mark when former Millwall man Lucas Neill put David Thompson through on goal with a delightful ball.

The ex Coventry midfielder raced down the left side of the area before, fortunately for Wigan, firing the wrong side of the far post.

At the other end of the field Wigan forced Brad Friedel into his first save of the evening 2 minutes later when a Peter Kennedy free kick from the left found Jason De Vos on the far side of the area and the Wigan skipper powered a header goalbound but the American keeper positioned himself well and collected quite comfortably.

Blackburn then began to take control of affairs and in the 13th minute opened up the Wigan defence with Lucas Neill allowed space to send a low drive from just outside of the area but his fellow countryman and good friend John Filan got down well to collect.

Moments later and Rovers were on the offensive again with Garry Flitcroft picking up the rebound from a blocked shot before testing Filan who again got down well to save.

Blackburn were really putting Wigan under the cosh by this point and within seconds of Flitcroft’s effort Andy Cole was to waste a golden opportunity when he raced clear of the Wigan defence after collecting a ball from David Thompson.

The former Newcastle and Manchester United striker put the ball beyond Filan at the near post but saw his effort ricochet off the upright and behind for a goal kick.

Their persistent pressure was rewarded two minutes later when they opened the scoring with a piece of clinical finishing from ANDY COLE who ran onto a defence splitting ball from Turkish international Tugay before firing to his right and into the back of the net.

Blackburn were showing their class now and you could have been forgiven for thinking that Wigan were on for a hammering. Wigan however lifted their heads, battled hard and got themselves back into the game that had appeared to be running away from them.

The only yellow card of the night was awarded to Garry Flitcroft in the 24th minute for feet up in a challenge on Jason Jarrett.

From the resulting free kick Leighton Baines did well to get to the byeline before putting a low ball into the box before eventually earning a corner for his side.

Baines, who only turned 18 last week, didn’t seem overawed by the occasion and was putting in another impressive performance that will surely be rewarded with a professional contract in the near future.

Jason Jarrett almost gifted Blackburn their second in the 28th minute when he was dispossed in the middle of the field by Dwight Yorke who raced clear of him and the Wigan rearguard but the Trinidad & Tobago international was stopped in his tracks by a brave save by John Filan who got down at the striker’s feet to collect.

Tony Dinning saw an effort go wide on the half hour mark before a Baines/Kennedy one two almost gave them a break on goal but unfortunately the final touch from the Northern Ireland international put the ball just beyond Baines’ reach and out for a goal kick it went.

Ellington came close with his 37th minute header from an Eaden centre but in the end Friedel was on hand to easily save.

As the game entered stoppage time Wigan had one final chance to level before the break when Ellington laid the ball on for Tony Dinning but his effort once again went over the cross bar.

Wigan went close to levelling the scoreline early in the second half with dangerman Jason De Vos getting his head on the end of a Scott Green corner but the ball was cleared off the line and moments later De Vos turned provider when he put Neil Roberts through on goal but the Welsh striker was beaten to the ball by Friedel.

Rovers’ Keith Gillespie, previously twice on loan at Wigan, was sent clear by Yorke in the 51st minute but the Northern Ireland international put his shot wide from 15 yards out.

Ellington showed his class two minutes later when he whipped the ball off the experienced Tugay before barging past the Rovers defence down the right but his ball into the box for Roberts was slightly off target, allowing Friedel to comfortably deal with.

Ellington was in action again but this time down the left flank when he set Dinning up but the best the hard working midfielder could do was earn a corner off the keeper.

Attentions were then turned to the dugout when referee Andy D’Urso was summonsed to the bench by the fourth official after he had apparantly had an heated argument with the Rovers manager who was then sent to take a seat in the stand for his troubles.

Wigan’s best chance of the game arrived in the 65th minute when a long ball forward found Tony Dinning who laid it off to Gary Teale, who had only just come on for Peter Kennedy.

The Scot carved his way through midfield and opened up the Rovers defence to give himself enough room to get in his shot which brought out a superb save by the near post from Friedel who could only push Teale’s effort behind for a corner kick.

The action moved up the other end of the field moments later with Andy Cole just beating the offside trap to go one on one with Filan but the former Blackburn keeper raced off his line to tackle the striker on the edge of his area and a minute later Cole saw his shot from 20 yards out go over the bar.

Jarrett and Teale combined down the middle in the 73rd minute but saw their efforts come to nothing and six minutes later Dinning put another effort over the bar when a loose ball fell invitingly at his feet 15 yards out.

However within seconds Blackburn killed off the game as a contest as David Thompson set up ANDY COLE who seized the opportunity to fire beyond the advancing Filan from 10 yards out.

Wigan almost pulled one back within a minute of the restart when a Nicky Eaden free kick found Matt Jackson in space at the back of the area but the centre half’s attempt flew beyond the far post and out for a goal kick.

Blackburn then made three changes to their side with Swedish defender Nils-Eric Johansson replacing former Liverpool defender Stig-Inge Bjornebye.

Vastly experienced Norwegian international Bjornebye had made his return to the squad after almost 8 months on the sideline following a serious eye injury picked up in training.

Yorke and Cole were then rested with another Norwegian Egil Ostenstad and the popular Matt Jansen coming on as replacements.

Jason Jarrett saw a low drive into the area blocked and cleared by the Rovers defence with 2 minutes of normal time remaining and in stoppage time Teale saw an optimistic ball from the right byeline easily collected at the near post by Friedel before the final whistle brought the curtain down on Wigan’s Worthington Cup adventure.

In the end Blackburn were the better side and fully deserved their place in the last four of the competition but Wigan did more than enough to show the footballing world that they are a force to be reckoned with and I for one don’t believe that I was watching a Second Division side out their on the pitch.

Referee: Andy D’Urso (Billericay, Essex)
Attendance: 16,922
1 John Filan 1 Brad Friedel
26 Leighton Baines 2 Lucas Neill
5 Jason De Vos 6 Craig Short
4 Matt Jackson 21 Martin Taylor
19 Nicky Eaden 5 Stig-Inge Bjornebye
11 Peter Kennedy 18 Keith Gillespie
16 Tony Dinning 20 David Thompson
18 Jason Jarrett 3 Tugay
14 Scott Green 7 Garry Flitcroft
8 Neil Roberts 9 Andy Cole
9 Nathan Ellington 19 Dwight Yorke
13 Dave Beasant 13 Alan Kelly
6 Ian Breckin 35 Neil Danns
2 Paul Mitchell 14 Nils-Eric Johansson
12 Mike Flynn 22 Egil Ostenstad
20 Gary Teale 10 Matt Jansen
16′     Goal Andy Cole
24′     Yellow Card Garry Flitcroft
62′ Player Off Peter Kennedy
Player On Gary Teale
72′ Player Off Scott Green
Player On Mike Flynn
80′     Goal Andy Cole
82′     Player Off Stig-Inge Bjornebye
Player On Nils-Eric Johansson
83′     Player Off Dwight Yorke
Player On Egil Ostenstad
84′     Player Off Andy Cole
Player On Matt Jansen