Wigan Athletic’s second 0-0 of the season, in what was probably the most predictable result on the fixture list, seems to be sparking far more debate than the rather more colourful affairs we’ve graced. Was this a missed opportunity after another frustrating display of poor attacking play, or should we be grateful for the point, the clean sheet and move on?
The match itself was not one for the neutral. Latics controlled possession, passing commendably despite a torn up pitch (thanks rugby), but didn’t create anything of note. Villa waited patiently, breaking dangerously through Robbie Keane and Darren Bent, but found Al-Habsi at his best. Jean Beausejour’s contribution down the left has resulted in an increased volume of crosses, but there remains no one with the striking instincts, or heading ability, to meet them. Wigan logged 14 corners without coming close to scoring from them. Is Lee McCulloch available?
Victor Moses’ head was sadly stuck firmly in the “down” position, at one point failing to realize there was no one was within 30 yards of him before booting in a cross down the right wing. Hugo Rodallega came on and was immediately involved in Latics’ two best chances — the first, a neat turn and decent left-footed curler that sailed over the bar; the second a difficult half volley after Victor Moses appeared to have been felled in the penalty area. For all Franco Di Santo’s exemplary running around and skill on the ball, he never seems to get himself into these types of situations.
Aston Villa delivered a classic Alex McLeish performance, collecting yellow cards for cynical fouls and hoping for a piece of magic from one of their talented front men, or a lucky bounce from a set piece. Latics may yet go down but at least we don’t have to watch that sort of muck.
Despite seven minutes of injury-time — as a result of Darren Bent’s injury and the Gods of football plea for a goal — it ended 0-0.
Our third clean sheet of the season. Gary Caldwell, Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa all had excellent games. Despite being a virtual spectator in the second half, Ali Al-Habsi made two fantastic saves in the opening 15 minutes that eventually earned the side a point. A lot of credit for the recent defensive improvement must also go to James McArthur, who put in another inspirational shift of effort and graft in midfield. It was a sign of how highly his contribution is valued that Roberto opted to keep him on the pitch, instead asking James McCarthy to make way for Mo Diame in the second half. Jean Beausejour deserves a mention for his increasingly influential performances down the left. Before his arrival, Latics were depending on Ronnie Stam’s crosses from the right. While many of us would like to see them both on the pitch, it has to be said that Emmerson Boyce’s inclusion has also contributed to Latics’ best defensive performances of the season of late.
The final third of the pitch. Jordi Gomez and Victor Moses, the men charged with creating chances, had bad games. Jordi wasn’t noticeably bad, he just wasn’t very noticeable. Which is bad. Victor Moses was involved in Latics’ most promising play but was again let down by hesitancy or that frustrating final pass. Jordi enjoyed a fantastic run of form over the Christmas period, while Moses is up and down. We need one of them to deliver in games like this. It’s the type of game that Charles N’Zogbia might have won for us last year. A Jordi free-kick or a bit of Moses magic is due. Incidentally, the aforementioned N’Zogbia spent most of the afternoon on the Villa bench. What a waste.
Two points lost or a point gained?
While it does heap pressure on the next fixture, I don’t see this draw as a big problem. Of the next three, Latics probably need 6 points: Swansea (h), Norwich (a), and WBA (h). Results elsewhere this weekend were favourable. Most encouraging was QPR’s loss to Fulham. QPR still face the league’s top six clubs in their remaining 12 games. Blackburn and Bolton both lost to strong opposition, but a more important loss to Blackburn came in the form of Christopher Samba’s transfer to Russia — an important player and leader for them. Wolves may have gotten a point at Newcastle but failed to appoint a new manager of any pedigree, and still look in deep trouble. Latics’ next match against Swansea is pivotal. If we fail to win that one, we are going to be in need of points at places like Anfield or Stamford Bridge, not a situation we want to put ourselves in. We hit the post three times last time we played Swansea. A bit of luck this time could see us out of the bottom three.
A Neutral Would Say
Villa had a couple chances but were an eyesore. Latics deserved a goal for all their possession, corners, and pressure.
Al Al-Habsi: 8 — Didn’t have much to do, but kept things even with two excellent first half saves.
Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Looking very strong in recent matches.
Gary Caldwell: 8 — Excellent performance again from the captain.
Maynor Figueroa: 7.5 — Doesn’t get a lot of credit for it, but makes a lot of headed clearances. Neither Caldwell or Alcaraz are particularly tall as far as centre-halves go, his height is important.
Emmerson Boyce: 6 — A wonderful moment for Boycey after he broke the club’s record for Premier League appearances (146), previously held by Paul Scharner. But it was one of his weaker performances, it looked like his legs were failing him. He did make one crucial second half tackle to block a Robbie Keane shot, however. While Ronnie Stam offers a more exciting option at right wing-back — and certainly a fantastic option from the subs bench — Boyce’s experience, defensive solidity, and occasional burst forward might make him a safer bet in the starting lineup for the run-in.
Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Neat in possession, the Chilean played some nice balls into the box, and didn’t shy away from his defensive work either.
James McArthur: 8 — Great tackling, simple distribution, he is becoming a leader by example.
James McCarthy: 7 — Similar to James McArthur, but has more to offer offensively.
Jordi Gomez: 6 — Not creating enough.
Victor Moses: 6 — Needs to be more decisive when he’s in the box with a shooting opportunity. And more thoughtful when he’s outside the box, looking for a teammate.
Franco Di Santo: 7 — Did his job well, worked very hard, but wasn’t really anywhere near the score sheet.
Hugo Rodallega: 7 — Immediately involved in Latics best chances. A neat turn and left-footed shot, following by a half volley after Moses went down in the penalty area.
Mo Diame: N/A — Would like to see him back in the starting lineup against Swansea.
Albert Crusat: N/A — Came on late.