The slim margin on the DW scoreboard betrayed a thoroughly dominant, flowing performance filled with invention and verve that might have ended up in a +3 or +4 margin on another day. Save for a scrappy opening six minutes, Wigan recreated the stylish, exciting form show in last season’s glorious final chapter.
Almost everything. More than half the team put in their strongest performances of the season, with special praise reserved for Shaun Maloney who orchestrated almost every Wigan attack with clever flicks, darting runs, and eye of the needle through-balls. Maynor Figueroa recovered from a tired performance at Swansea with a masterful display at the back and some stunning passing. Ivan Ramis’ goal should be up there for goal of the season. James McArthur and James McCarthy were phenomenal and it is only a shame Jussi Jaaskelainen denied the latter a line amongst the goalscorers with an excellent first half save. Jean Beausejour and Emmerson Boyce, in different ways, were extremely effective on the day. And there was a return to form for Gary Caldwell.
The result was crucial. Microphones clearly picked up Roberto’s instructions to “keep it” with ten minutes to play, despite the ease with which Latics were cutting through West Ham’s back line. While many of us were craving that third killer goal, the manager knew that securing three points unspectacularly was more important. The win boosts the club’s points tally but more importantly provides a shot of confidence and a platform to build on. Not many teams will beat Wigan in that sort of home form.
The fact that the margin did end up so slim is a reminder that finishing must improve. Arouna Koné was energetic, skillful and always dangerous, but fluffed his lines on a couple occasions and should have put the game beyond reach. Franco Di Santo, playing a slightly deeper role, found himself shooting hopefully from outside the box when better options might have been available. Both had good games though — the partnership shows great promise.
What a shame Ryo Miyaichi was not on the bench for this one. The speed with which Wigan were breaking in those final 20 minute was impressive — he would surely have capitalized on the by then very leaky West Ham defence.
The fact that Ronnie Stam was on the bench for a league match raised a few eyebrows. Word on the street is that further Premier League appearances would activate a clause in his contract. Perhaps Roberto now believes he is ready to challenge Emmerson Boyce on the right, and may be worth the money such a clause might cost the club? Or perhaps it was a reminder to Boyce that his place is not automatic. Either way — it was nice to have him as an option, and Boyce responded with a strong performance.
Ali Al-Habsi: 8 — Looked bright and confident, made one or two crucial saves.
Maynor Figueroa: 9 — Strong in the air and on the ground, and his passing was sensational.
Gary Caldwell: 8 — A return to form at the heart of the defence. A little shaky in the opening minutes as he tested the waters with Carroll, but dominant as the game went on.
Ivan Ramis: 9 — What a goal. Looks better every match.
Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Plays a much more defensive role than his counterpart on the left side, but was intelligent with his passing and movement when he did get forward. Did his part defensively — West Ham’s wingers were ineffective.
Jean Beausejour: 8 — Strong performance from the Chilean, who was unlucky not to score with a fine left-footed strike in the first half. Lost Tomkins for the consolation header but was impressive throughout.
James McArthur: 9 — How pleasing to see him take his goal so well. Worked his socks off as always, but has understated quality about his game too.
James McCarthy: 9 — Also fantastic in the centre of the park. Very pleasing to see him shooting with greater frequency, and getting forward more often. He doesn’t often have the opportunity to show his pace, but when Watson replaced Di Santo and McCarthy was pushed slightly further forward, he led the counter-attacking charge on more than one occasion.
Shaun Maloney: 9 — Outstanding. Has found his home.
Franco Di Santo: 8 — Very good work rate and hold up play, quality passing. Didn’t have any clear chances but the ovation he received upon being substituted shows how appreciated he is these days.
Arouna Koné: 7.5 — Tricky to grade this performance. He was a constant threat, constantly got past his man, but guilty of missing a couple quality chances.
Ben Watson: Looked almost surprised at how much time he had on the ball, so exhausted were the West Ham midfielders after being given the Jimmy Mac runaround for 80 minutes. Played some nice football in his time on the pitch and freed James McCarthy into a more attacking role.