Three goals in four magical minutes highlighted a complete performance by a mixed but well balanced Wigan XI as they reached the FA Cup’s final four for the first time in the club’s history.
However precarious their league position, the accomplishment at Goodison Park shines a light on the progress achieved in the Roberto Martinez era. Not only was this an impressive away win against a strong team hungry for silverware — several of today’s starters were fringe players, and the captain was rested. This sort of depth simply did not exist at the club three years ago.
In a more immediate sense, this was the best possible way to put the Liverpool fracas behind them and bore a lot more resemblance to the success at Reading. There is no hiding that Wigan’s best football is coming away from home in that black strip. Before Figueroa’s opening goal — an achievement in itself as it came from a set piece against one of the biggest teams in the league — Shaun Maloney had hit the post with an excellent curling effort and James McCarthy had been denied by Tim Howard’s replacement in the Everton goal, Jan Mucha. At the other end, Everton had been limited to a single chance well-saved by young Spanish keeper Joel Robles.
The second half was an exercise in resistance, with the sorely missed Antolin Alcaraz comfortably returning to the centre of defence after a season blighted with injury. Everton huffed and puffed but couldn’t create the breakthrough, and Wigan cruised to a second consecutive 3-0 away victory.
Performances like this breathe fresh hope into the club’s survival prospects in the league. The return of Antolin Alcaraz brought defensive solidity and an assured presence. Concentration and focus was everything is wasn’t against Liverpool a week ago.
Martinez got his tactics right, deploying a strong back four, with Jean Beausejour and Callum McManaman in more advanced wing positions and Jordi Gomez partnering James McCarthy in midfield. Much of Wigan’s attacking success came down the left wing, where both Beausejour and Gomez were able to find space and deliver left footed crosses into the box. Though comparatively quiet on the right hand side, Callum McManaman looked sharp and took his goal superbly. His presence in a more traditional winger role was probably also intended to keep Leighton Baines pegged back, and was largely effective in doing so.
The finishing was superb and came from different areas of the pitch, from different types of situations. A set piece, a breakaway, and a goal from attacking possession. Header, right-foot, left-foot.
Joel Robles had a very good game in goal and looks a promising young deputy for Ali Al-Habsi.
Injuries to Callum McManaman and his replacement, Ryo Miyaichi, were the only negatives from today’s match. Results elsewhere, however — with victories for QPR and Aston Villa and an away point for Southampton — heap the pressure on Wigan to keep up.
Joel Robles: 7.5 — Made several good saves, both high and low, suggesting he is an agile shot stopper. Dealt well with a couple crosses and on the whole looks a decent young keeper. Martinez will be keen to make his loan move permanent this summer.
Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Focused and disciplined in defense. Didn’t get forward but largely dealt with the significant threat of Baines and Steven Pienaar down the flank.
Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Strong and composed. Surely the season would have gone quite differently if he had been fit and available. Will captain Gary Caldwell get his place back?
Paul Scharner: 8 — Excellent, with one spectacular tackle to block a Baines cross in the first half, and good work in the air to thwart Marouanne Fellaini.
Maynor Figueroa: 8 — Another excellent performer, strong in defence and among the goalscorers once again.
James McCarthy: 7.5 — Steady and carried greater defensive responsibility given his more attacking partner in midfield.
Jordi Gomez: 7.5 — Took his goal extremely well and held his own in a less familiar central midfield role. Not as strong defensively as James McArthur but his left foot offered greater variety in Wigan’s attacking play.
Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Good performance from the Chilean, who rarely wasted the ball, showed some quick footwork and linked up well with his teammates. Most of Wigan’s attacking play came down his side.
Callum McManaman: 8 — Excellent touch and finish for the goal. Had earlier played a lovely cross-pitch ball to Shaun Maloney, who hit the post. Not terribly involved, but sharp when called into action. Pushing for a league start.
Shaun Maloney: 8 — Unlucky not to be on the score sheet. Buzzed about as ever, drawing fouls and causing trouble.
Arouna Kone: 7.5 — Superb hold-up play all match long despite battling two physical central defenders on his own. Headed a decent chance over the bar early in the first half but didn’t have any other opportunities to score himself. Rewarded with an assist for the third goal.
Ryo Miyaichi: 6 — Looked a bit rusty after missing several months through injury. Went off injured again after being clattered into the advertising boards.
James McArthur: N/A — Came on for Miyaichi and hold on to the result.