A terrific team display once again ended in frustration for Wigan Athletic, as their 21 shots — 3 of which hit the post — amounted to just one goal, the same as the rather fortunate West Brom. Roberto’s team is surely playing the best football a team in its league position has ever played, and yet it also appears to be the worst at finishing opportunities in all four professional leagues.
With apologies for the late match report, these extra few days of reflection have brought me a frustrating conclusion. We already have a player who could have made the difference — Mauro Boselli. At risk of incurring the wrath of Cockney Latic, this would have been the type of game that would have seen the Argentine thrive.
During Boselli’s frustrating time at the club, the club’s attacking strategy was quite different. Wingers played on opposite sides, there were no wingbacks. N’Zogbia attacked on the right, Rodallega on the left, both cut in to shoot more often than cross the ball to the centre-forward. The role of the centre-forward in that case was that of a target man, someone to hold the ball and lay it off to the skillful, goal-scoring wingers. A role more suited to someone with the traits of say, Franco Di Santo. Boselli — a forward’s opposite of Di Santo, that is, a poacher — was largely starved of service in that team.
If Wigan had 21 shots the other day there must have been at least 30 crosses into the box, many of which were top quality deliveries. Jean Beausejour was simply outstanding — a wonderful performance full of energy, invention and the full range of crossing — curled, lofted, driven, measured. Victor Moses was dangerous in flashes and Emmerson Boyce was as involved as anyone on the pitch, bombing up and down the right flank. Even Maynor Figueroa found the space to get forward from his centre-half position to deliver a couple tantalizing balls into the box. For all Di Santo’s effort and mobile build-up play, all the Latics needed in this game was a finisher. Is there a recall clause in Boselli’s loan?
Probably not, but it wouldn’t happen anyway. Hugo Rodallega is apparently fit to play Liverpool this weekend.
But back to the match. Di Santo had a hat-trick of chances in the first 10 minutes. Emmerson Boyce and James McCarthy, with a close-range header and top-of-the-box screamer respectively, were denied by the crossbar. Ben Foster was enjoying the game of his life. Shaun Maloney, in for Gomez in the attacking midfield role, was clearly not match fit but still a big improvement on the Spaniard’s recent performances. He has imagination, the vision to break down a defense with a pass or stepover. James McCarthy and James McArthur dominated midfield, as has become their custom — it’s hard to imagine a gutsier pair in there; honest, tough, and cultured with their passing. The defense looked good.
Latics finally got their reward in the second half in the scrappiest of ways. Victor Moses’ dangerous cross hit a West Brom defender and was bundled over the line by James McArthur. It’s not often that a Wigan supporter breathes easy, but West Brom had shown so little that I admit there were a couple minutes during which I believed we could go on and win this one comfortably. A foolish thought, as minutes later Paul Scharner equalized from an unmarked header, from a corner.
At one point, Yusuf Mulumbu, frustrated at James McArthur’s relentless harrying, should have been sent off for retaliation when he pushed the Wigan midfielder right in front of the referee. If McArthur had gone to ground, it would have been red. If it had been McArthur and not Mulumbu who did it, it’s possible it would have been red too.
Mohamed Diame came on and again was guilty of missing the best chance of the match after Beausejour yet again did the hard part, laying a low cross into his path. Albert Crusat hit the post yet again in the dying moments, but it wasn’t to be.
In mid-week news, Queen’s Park Rangers somehow beat Liverpool 3-2 and Blackburn Rovers have gone three points higher after beating Sunderland. Grim news indeed.
The team performance. Roberto’s game plan. They did everything they could. Real urgency, real effort and everyone played very well, except Di Santo — who was not bad, but also didn’t score.
Switching off for one crucial set play to allow Scharner to equalize against the run of play. The finishing. The fixture list and the league table.
Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Not to blame for the goal. Didn’t have much to do.
Antolin Alcaraz: 7 — Was excellent but looked like he should have been marking Scharner for the goal.
Gary Caldwell: 8 — Another good performance from the Scot, who has been very impressive of late.
Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Solid at the back and delivered one or two great crosses. Should not be allowed to take free-kicks though. Specially when Shaun Maloney is the other option.
Emmerson Boyce: 8 — Bombed up and down, was as involved as anyone, almost scored. But isn’t a natural finisher.
Jean Beausejour: 10 — The Chilean gets the first 10/10 on this website. He didn’t put a foot wrong. His crosses would have resulted in a hat-trick for a proven Premier League goalscorer. Or Grant Holt.
James McCarthy: 8 — The build-up to his shot that hit the crossbar typifies him. Excellent, strong tackle to win the ball, on his feet in a flash, beautiful technique in the shot. But we need him to be near the box more frequently.
James McArthur: 8 — Another good shift. Misplaced the ball a few times in the first half, but made up for it with the sheer number of yards he covered, not least when scoring the goal.
Shaun Maloney: 7 — Showed flashes of what he is capable of, but this was his first start for the club in a long time, and wasn’t totally sharp. Still, he will play a big part in the run in.
Victor Moses: 7 — Quiet in the first half but created the goal with a nice piece of skill.
Franco Di Santo: 6 — Everything but the goals.
Callum McManaman: 5 — Had his chance to be a hero, but nerves and enthusiasm got the better of him. Spurned a glorious chance when caught frozen in the box, and then over eagerness saw him shoot into the stands. Still not ready, on this showing.
Mo Diame: 6 — As against Norwich, was dangerous when he came on but missed the best chance of the match.
Albert Crusat: 7 — Only on the pitch a few minutes but combined well with Jean Beausejour and hit the post.