While the pre-match league table suggested it was Wigan Athletic destined for football in the second tier next season, the emphatic nature of their 3-0 triumph over Reading this afternoon indicated the Premier League is a far more suitable home. The gulf in class was apparent early on, and the match was effectively over after 50 minutes with a perfect trio of headed, right-footed and left-footed goals. What ensued would best be described as a keep-away training ground routine for Roberto Martinez’s charges.
The manager got his tactics right. The flexibility and fluidity of the team’s shape was a huge asset. He started the game with a hugely experienced back four, all of whom displayed the kind of calm and level-headed defended we’ve seen too little of this season, and earned a morale-boosting clean sheet for their troubles. Jean Beausejour, in a more advanced role on the left, was more influential than in recent times, playing the stunning through ball for Arouna Koné’s second goal. The second half switch to his customary wingbacks in the second half was seamless, while the tactical change also afforded Shaun Maloney greater freedom, who in turn orchestrated proceedings for the rest of the game.
Arouna Koné has returned from the African Cup of Nations refreshed. He has now scored four goals in two games, and his expert chipped finish for the second goal was the mark of a confident striker. Despite missing several fixtures in January and February, he is on track to be the club’s top scorer by some distance.
What an astute signing Paul Scharner is turning out to be. His experience and versatility were just the tonic for Latics’ ailing back line. He has slotted into various roles seamlessly, and it will be a surprise if anyone dislodges him from the starting lineup.
Emmerson Boyce made a welcome return after missing several matches through injury, while it was a great pleasure to see Antolin Alcaraz make his return after missing the bulk of the season. Word is Ryo Miyaichi is approaching full fitness — Martinez will soon have a near-full squad to choose from.
Despite escaping the bottom three, the league table is still frighteningly tight. But today’s was a performance to celebrate.
Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Didn’t have to make one save. Dealt with crosses well.
Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Got beaten once or twice in the first half, but improved as the game went along and made some dangerous runs down the right in the second half.
Gary Caldwell: 7 — Composed and patient.
Paul Scharner: 8 — Made some outstanding tackles in the first half, used the ball well, and enjoyed his final ten minutes making forays down the right wing.
Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Scored a lovely goal following excellent interplay with Di Santo, and you could see what it meant to him. Almost scored a follow-up cracker, denied by Reading keeper Adam Federici.
Jean Beausejour: 7 — A decent outing for him. The advanced, more traditional wing role he played in the first half allowed him to be more influential. By the time he reverted to the wingback position in the second, Wigan were firmly in control, and he continued to play dangerous curled balls into the box.
James McArthur: 6 — A few misplaced passes and got caught in possession a couple times — possibly affected by the mask he was wearing. It wasn’t his best first half, but he was comfortable in the second.
James McCarthy: 6 — Quiet, but efficient and kept things ticking. Never once lost the ball.
Shaun Maloney: 7 — Strangely, was not directly involved in any of the goals. Was his usual nippy, creative self though, and he very controlled the second half.
Franco Di Santo: 7 — As against Chelsea, he deserved a goal for a strong performance full of inventive running and passing. His flick for Figueroa’s goal was sublime. Was inches from connecting with driven crosses across a couple times.
Arouna Koné: 8 — Very good. Strong in possession, unselfish but hungry for goals. Got two, almost made it a hat-trick.
Jordi Gomez: Game was over by the time he came on, but he was happy to play tikki-takka until the clock ran down.
Antolin Alcaraz: Great to see him back. Slotted back into his right of center position and got ten minutes under his belt.