Three points of solid gold were obtained on Saturday as Latics clung on for a second consecutive 2-1 away victory in the Premier League. After the comprehensive home hammering by Arsenal it was clear what needed to happen on the training ground during the week, and the Latics delivered with a courageous, chest-thumping, steel-willed defensive performance.
On any other day, West Brom might’ve scored three or four, amassing 13 corners and 23 goal attempts over the course of 90 minutes. The pressure began early, with Chris Brunt, Shane Long and Jerome Thomas all going close, and Ali Al-Habsi back to his best with an instinctive reflex save. If you haven’t read The Guardian’s excellent profile on Ali, please do so here. Having survived the early onslaught, however, Wigan grew in confidence, gaining possession and making occasional forays into West Brom territory. Victor Moses created some space only to drag a tame shot wide, while David Jones willed his way through two or three defenders but failed to get a shot away. The match was turning, and Latics were the more comfortable side when Gary Caldwell was adjudged to have pulled Peter Odemwingie down outside the box. While most of us watched Chris Brunt and his hammer of a left boot, Steven Reid planted a stunning right-footed curler past Al-Habsi and into the upper left corner.
Wigan were stunned and had to keep their focus to avoid conceding again, but only several minutes later a quick break saw Mohammed Diame in space down the left wing. The man with the longest legs on the pitch intelligently drove a low ball into the box, causing a bit of panic, eventually falling to Victor Moses who beautifully curled it into the top right corner. The coolness and precision that has so far eluded him arrived in all its glory. You could see what it meant to him as he wheeled away in delight.
The feeling at half-time was that West Brom were there for the taking, and Wigan started the second half strongly, with Jordi Gomez moving the ball well in midfield, Conor Sammon putting himself about up front, and Moses electric. It was the latter who won the crucial penalty, spinning inside the area a second too quickly for hero-to-villain Steven Reid, whose outstretched leg tripped the Wigan man. It was a near carbon copy of the winner at Sunderland, as Jordi Gomez calmly tucked away his third goal in four games, and his second from the spot.
What followed was a relentless onslaught and aerial bombardment, with West Brom’s fine wing play resulting in what seemed like a cross a minute. But Latics defense, so maligned for their capitulation against Arsenal, delivered their finest performance of the season, channeling the spirit and solidity of the survival run of last season. Strengthened by the return of Antolin Alcaraz but led by the outstanding pair of Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa, they were nothing short of heroic.
On the break, Victor Moses’ trickery and Conor Sammon’s raw pace were causing problems. On one occasion, the Nigerian international broke from midfield, and having spotted the keeper of his line, attempted an audacious chip from about 25 yards out. Foster would recover, but it was the kind of arrogant attempt that has been lacking from Moses’ play, a truly promising sign from a player for whom the sky is the limit. Minutes later, he would go for glory again, when he might’ve passed to Conor Sammon, who had gotten himself in a good position at the top of the box.
Few Latics fans will have had much of their fingernails left to chew by the time Steven Reid hit the wall with an identically placed free-kick in stoppage time, but Latics resilience and sheer determination in this one, and Moses’ outstanding contribution made this the most gratifying match of the season.
Most everything. The defence, including Ali Al-Habsi, and Victor Moses deserve all the praise in the world. Maynor Figueroa edges our man of the match award, for which there were many candidates, delivering an all heart performance on the left side of the three man defense. In midfield, Jordi Gomez not only took his penalty as if Latics were 4-0 up and in the top half of the table, his passing was also intelligent and effective in the spells during which Latics controlled possession. Conor Sammon worked his socks off as always, but also looked dangerous on the break and should have been given the chance by Victor Moses to finish the game off. A match to inspire pride.
Antolin Alcaraz’s injury. After missing three matches through suspension, reports suggest he may be out until the new year with cracked ribs. He too, was outstanding in defence until his withdrawal, and will be sorely missed in the crucial tough matches ahead. Steve Gohouri looked a bit wobbly in possession when he came on, and will need to be at his best to fill the Paraguayan’s boots.
A Neutral Would Say
Huge defensive effort helped Latics edge this one, West Brom probably deserved a point.
Al Al-Habsi: 8 — Made several impressive saves and couldn’t be faulted for the goal.
Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Very strong performance, and comfortable on the ball. His passing and distribution is the best of the centre-backs.
Gary Caldwell: 8.5 — Outstanding, commanding performance from the captain. Defending crosses suits him better than one on one situations. A bit unlucky to have been punished for giving away the free-kick that led to the goal, but made up for it.
Maynor Figueroa: 9 — He hasn’t had his strongest season, but was at his very best this week on the left side of the back three. Great to see him succeeding in the new formation.
Ronnie Stam: 6.5 — Less present in attack than in previous outings, but worked hard. Jerome Thomas gave him a hard time.
David Jones: 7 — Decent performance, particularly in the first half, with hard work and solid passing.
Mo Diame: 7 — Broke well and supplied a good cross for the first goal. Otherwise, worked hard in midfield without doing anything fancy.
James McCarthy: 7 — Solid, earned a free-kick in a dangerous position with a driving run, of which we’d love to see more.
Jordi Gomez: 7.5 — Passed the ball well, helped Latics retain possession in spells. Earned a silly yellow card for waving an imaginary card at the ref, but was influential in midfield. Latics do lack pace on his side when he plays, particularly when Ronnie Stam is pinned back by opposing wingers, but his contribution was important.
Victor Moses: 8.5 — Scored a brilliant goal, won a penalty, and troubled West Brom all afternoon. Congratulations to him, and may it be the first of many more this season.
Conor Sammon: 7.5 — Worked tirelessly and broke with pace on a couple occasions in the second half. Isn’t doing anything wrong, but still hasn’t really had any chances. What a shame Moses didn’t spot him to put the nail in the coffin on that second half break.
Steve Gohouri: 7 — To come on as a defensive replacement in a game this tough was a tough ask. He did look nervous with the ball at his feet, but did enough to keep West Brom out. Latics will need him to be at his best in the next few games (unless Emmerson Boyce takes his place).
James McArthur: 6 — Came on for Ronnie Stam, and struggled a little bit to get into a very fast-paced game.
Franco Di Santo: 7 — Came on for Conor Sammon, exhibited his usual good work ethic, and held the ball up well when he needed to buy the Latics a few seconds of respite. A bit lucky to be on the bench, he has rarely let the team down this season.
I’m so glad Rodallega is out. I liked Sammon’s promise since his first appearances. I see you’re long-time fans of Rodallega, but I don’t think he’s a good fit for Wigan’s tactics. Maybe he’d do well in a 2 striker system, but he’s not good at working on his own.
Rodallega seems to sit in place, at most just drifting back to get the ball, or trying to beat the trap. Whatever the case, he’s always almost directly lined up with a defender, standing in the same place while ball watching, making it very easy for the opponents to defend. And he keeps asking for the ball, putting all the responsibility on his teammates to find a way to get him the ball as he is closely marked and can do nothing with it anyway. You can see this especially on crosses, as his predicable runs are always being easily defended, usually with both centerbacks lined up on his near and far side. It’d take a miracle cross to find him with that.
Then when he gets the ball, he just wants to shoot. That’s what he’s thinking. He passes only when there’s not even a chance to turn to get a shot. And his passes are impatient, as he wants to force the ball forward or he expects an immediate return pass. It as if he has already resigned himself to the belief that he’ll lose possession shortly, so might as well take a chance now. Anything to shoot now. So whenever he has possession, you can be sure Wigan won’t have possession for much longer. Sometimes he looks like he’s just “going through the motions”, like he just wants to force a low percentage offensive chance so we can congratulate him on the attempt rather than blaming him for losing the ball after attempting something more patiently elaborate or risky but with a better chance of creating something more threatening.
All he has to offer is an ability to cleanly and powerfully strike the ball in almost any situation. He doesn’t scuff shots. He can do a nice bicycle kick and volleys. He’s pretty accurate. But he can’t create chances in the first place.
Sammon, on the other hand, is always looking to move around, get into channels, force the centerbacks to switch marking duties, etc. That’s a huge part of how he helps break down the opponent’s defense and open up space for teammates. He’s better at coming back for the ball and keeping possession while holding up play. He makes better choices with the ball, without any bias towards shooting, dribbling himself, or passing. He’ll gladly move out of position to the wing if he sees on opening, rather than always staying at home in the center. He just makes the best play he sees, not the play he prefers. And he doesn’t give up. When it looks tough, he makes the best attempt out of it, with a belief that he might be able to come out on top (like his flick-ons that he gets to himself when teammates aren’t around).
Next, Wigan just has to get rid of Gohouri and they’ll be a solid mid-table team.