A thrilling encounter at the DW Stadium ended two goals apiece as Tottenham and Wigan put a dent in each other’s contrasting ambitions. Spurs, chasing a Champions League spot after being cruelly denied one last season, started strongly but found themselves 2-1 down for the bulk of the second half. Wigan’s committed and organized defending looked likely to secure three points of gold in the relegation battle until an intelligent Tom Huddlestone free-kick caused panic and Emmerson Boyce — scorer of Wigan’s first goal with an excellent header — scored an unfortunate own goal.
While there was much to applaud from Wigan, the nature of the goals conceded will torment Roberto Martinez. Eighty minutes before Boyce’s heartbreaking own goal, Maynor Figueroa and Joel Robles had conspired to bizarrely gift Spurs the lead. A series of uncertain passes between them resulted in a casual clearance by the young Spanish keeper that bounced powerfully off Bale’s outstretched leg and into the back of the net. That Wigan managed to stop Tottenham’s dangerous attacking game but conceded two goals as sloppy as those is cruel on Martinez, who got his tactics right on the day.
Wigan’s goals on the other hand, were fantastic. A curling Shaun Maloney corner was wonderfully headed home by Boyce to equalize early in the affair, before a truly inspired passing sequence involving five players was finished with a thumping left footed volley by Callum McManaman to give the team the lead.
Despite uncharacteristically struggling for possession throughout the match, Wigan played with desire and commitment and were ultimately unfortunate not to emerge with three points.
Despite the absence of key defender Antolin Alcaraz and the injury to Maynor Figueroa, there were signs that Wigan could defend well with a makeshift defence. The midfield tackling was superb with James McCarthy and James McArthur at their very best. Ronnie Stam, on for Figueroa, had a good game and may well keep his place at right-back with Emmerson Boyce covering for the injured trio of Ivan Ramis, Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa.
Callum McManaman’s goal was superbly taken and he has shown enough in the last ten or so matches to suggest he will be a big contributor of goals in seasons to come. He is fearless and direct, and takes it on when others would pass the ball to someone else. He fades in and out of games and is being eased into Premier League football with about an hour of football per match, but he has become an important player for Martinez.
There was a huge element of fortune in Spurs’ equalizing goal, but the first one was simply unforgivable. You can’t expect to beat a team of such quality when you give them a free 1-0 start.
The injury to Maynor Figueroa is another serious blow in a season that has denied Latics of a fit and healthy backline. How different things might have been if Ramis, Alcaraz and Figueroa had been able to line up together. The question now is whether Gary Caldwell will return to the centre of defence against less speedy opposition at West Brom, or if Boyce will partner Scharner with Stam continuing on the right side of defence.
The League Table
It is a two-horse race between Wigan and Aston Villa. The teams have now played the same number of matches, with the latter two points ahead. All eyes will be on their unpredictable fixture against Sunderland on Monday. As long as they do not win, Wigan’s fortunes remain in their hands.
Joel Robles: 5 — Awful mistake early in the match to give away the first goal. Arguably might have done better with the second. In his defence, he made some excellent saves and probably saved a goal when Jermain Defoe was through on goal late in the first half — but looked jittery.
Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Unlucky to give away the own goal. He had been excellent before that, scoring a brilliant header and defending responsibly after being drafted into the centre of defence.
Paul Scharner: 8– Very good game against difficult strikers, despite moving across to the unfamiliar left side of centre in a make-shift defence.
Maynor Figueroa: 5 — Was not enjoying his day before injuring himself while making an excellent clearance. His injury is a huge blow and will be missed.
Jean Beausejour: 6 — Given the circumstances, and being asked to play at left-back for big chunks of the game against some of the fastest players in the league, he coped admirably. Unfortunately, his professional foul against Kyle Walker led to the free-kick from which Tottenham equalised.
James McCarthy: 8 — Asked to play a deeper role shielding the back four, McCarthy covered every blade of grass today breaking up play and driving forward when able.
James McArthur: 8 — An exhibition in one-on-one defending. He won the ball back in midfield frequently and tracked back when necessary to help out his defence.
Jordi Gomez: 7 — Caught in possession a few times and not his best first half, but played well in the second before making way for Roger Espinoza.
Shaun Maloney: 7 — A typical Maloney performance with neat feet, darting runs and positive movement. Unable to exert strong influence on the game from the wing, however, as the team struggled for possession.
Callum McManaman: 8 — Excellent defensive contribution, he ran his socks off. In attack, he drifted in and out of the game but scored a cracker and looked dangerous when on the ball.
Arouna Kone: 7 — Threatened but couldn’t deliver this time.
Ronnie Stam: 7 — Put in a very good shift despite having been in the fringes for a while now.
Franco Di Santo: One fantastic curled cross for Kone after a strong run down the right side.
Roger Espinoza: Immediately involved, a couple decent tackles.