Fresh from earning what were probably the two best results in the club’s history, Wigan Athletic this time succumbed to a late 2-1 defeat against bogey team Fulham. Though organized and well drilled, Roberto’s men were visibly tired and lacked the verve of recent performances.
The loss would not have been quite so damaging had QPR, Blackburn and Bolton not all picked up points (3, 3 and 4 respectively) in their fixtures. The good news is that Aston Villa are now well and truly involved, sitting only two points above the Latics with three games to play.
The early calf injury to Franco Di Santo was a warning. Roberto had opted to keep the same XI that performed so well against Arsenal, prioritizing momentum over freshness. After all, how can you drop a player after their involvement in back-to-back wins over Man United and Arsenal? But it was clearly a match too many. Even James McArthur looked tired and was eventually substituted in the second half.
Still, Latics were hard to break down and managed to take a surprise lead through an Emmerson Boyce thunderbolt from the edge of the box, his first of the season. Within minutes it was level, however, when the impressive Pavel Pogrebnyak struck a venomous shot through three Wigan defenders into the bottom corner of the net. Strong Fulham pressure ended in two clear scoring chances bouncing off the post, before Boyce gave away a cheap free-kick, from which Philippe Senderos headed home in the last minute of regular time. With Victor Moses marked out of the game, Latics struggled to create anything of note going forward.
Despite the result and performance, Latics were hard to beat and almost came away with a point against one of the in-form teams in the league.
Franco Di Santo’s injury was a shame, given his strong form of late. Conor Sammon is a likeable player, but doesn’t have his skill-level. Perhaps a chance for Hugo Rodallega to make a final, crucial contribution to the club that gave him his big chance?
QPR delivered another upset against Spurs, but are level on points with Latics and must play Chelsea and Man City away, and Stoke at home. Their giant-killing has come at home, and it really is hard to imagine them coming out of those matches with more than 4 points. That said, Chelsea are likely to be exhausted after 4 matches in 9 games, and playing most of that grueling Barcelona affair with ten men.
Blackburn won their absolutely-must-win fixture against Norwich, but also face two extremely difficult trips to Spurs and Chelsea. And of course, the home fixture against us.
Bolton unfortunately beat Aston Villa last night, which I admit I didn’t see coming however bad Villa have been. They, along with us, have the most favorable fixtures of the teams involved. Sunderland and Stoke away — neither easy, but both against mid-table teams with little to play for — West Brom and Spurs at home.
Aston Villa look very poor at the moment and have an interesting last three games: West Brom away, Spurs at home, and Norwich away. They could win any of them, but in current form could lose them all too. A wildcard in the fight, but we’re glad they’ve joined the fun.
Wigan – Newcastle is a mouth-watering affair. The Geordies have some magical players in top form — Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Cisse have been a joy to watch. Demba Ba and Cheik Tiote are not half bad either. They sit three points clear in fourth place and are chasing an unlikely Champions League berth. All to play for. I feel a draw would be a good result for Latics in this one. If Blackburn and QPR lose to their top tier opposition, the point should be enough to ease pressure on that away Blackburn fixture.
Wolves, of course, are down already. But they will be playing for pride, under no pressure, on the last day of the season.
Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Not at fault for the goals but didn’t make many saves either.
Antolin Alcaraz: 7.5 — Solid.
Gary Caldwell: 7.5 — Solid.
Maynor Figueroa: 8 — Cool under pressure.
Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Scored a fantastic goal, but gave away a needless foul that led to the winning goal.
Jean Beausejour: 6 — Tired.
James McArthur: 7 — Struggled to own the midfield as he has done recently. Though he still got more touches than anyone else.
James McCarthy: 6 — A bit absent in this one.
Jordi Gomez: 7 — Got into decent positions but his finishing let him down. Substituted for Shaun Maloney.
Victor Moses: 6 — Kept very quiet in this game. The downside of his excellent performances against the big boys is that he will be singled out for special attention for these last three matches.
Franco Di Santo: 6 — Couldn’t get into the game, then went off injured.
Conor Sammon: 8 — Lots of effort but no service.
Shaun Maloney: 7 — Neat when he got it, but couldn’t create anything of note.
Ben Watson: 6 — Brought on to reclaim the midfield, but it didn’t work.