Wigan Athletic put in a Jekyll and Hyde performance in beating Maribor. At times we were reminded of that brand of champagne football that Roberto Martinez’s teams could sometimes conjure up. But then again we saw that lethargic side of this current team’s make-up. Champagne it wasn’t – flat beer maybe.
Both teams had gone into the game knowing that Rubin Kazan had thrashed Zulte Waregem 4-0. The most important thing for Wigan was to get the three points, although Owen Coyle had been suggesting they might go further and produce a footballing feast. At times they did.
Unlike the first match in Belgium, Coyle put out his first choice players. Emmerson Boyce came in, pushing Ryan Shotton to centre back. Jean Beausejour replaced James McClean who was not fully fit, but made the bench.
Coyle’s starting line-up and formation was spot-on. James McArthur and Ben Watson played the midfield holding roles, with Jordi Gomez in his best position in the attacking midfield role. Callum McManaman and Jean Beausejour played wide, with Nick Powell in the lone centre forward role.
Latics dominated the first half playing calm, controlled possession football reminiscent of times gone by. Nick Powell ran through the Maribor defence in the 7th minute following a poor back pass, but goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic made a good save.
Wigan took the lead after 22 minutes when an almost comic punch by Handanovic went backwards, allowing Powell an easy chance to head home. McArthur and Watson were controlling the game from central midfield, with Gomez and Beausejour linking up very well. Although well marked, Callum McManaman was a danger on the other wing,
Wigan’s second goal in the 34th minute came from a fantastic curving cross from Beausejour, headed in by Ben Watson, who had made a great run from midfield.
Powell squandered a chance in the 36th minute when clean through, putting in an audacious chip that went wide. Roberto Martinez was sat there in the stands and would surely have loved that kind of arrogance that Powell had shown, even if the effort was unsuccessful.
In the 38th minute McManaman made a surging run with a good cross for Beausejour who could not control the bobbling ball and scuffed his shot. The same player went through again in the 44th minute and was unlucky with a cross shot that went wide of the far post.
After going in with a 2-0 lead at half time, with Maribor on the ropes, Latics could have won by a landslide. However, once again they defended deeper and allowed the away team more possession. After 61 minutes the dangerous Jean-Philippe Mendy outpaced and outmuscled Shotton and Magno Tavares scored from the chaos that followed the Frenchman’s cut back.
The whole feel of the game had changed. Latics were edgy, although they were still creating chances at the other end. In the 61st minute a pass from McArthur found Beausejour whose superb low cross just needed a touch with an open goal ahead. Powell stretched but could only manage to hit the post with the ball being cleared.
In the 89th minute it took a spectacular save by Scott Carson to deny a powerful drive from Tavares as he pushed the powerful effort over the bar. Latics were living dangerously.
However, in the 91st minute, Powell who had been a real handful for the Slovenian team all night, got a deserved second goal dribbling through the defence before slotting home with his left foot.
The well balanced team that Coyle put out provided Latics with the width that they used to stretch Maribor’s defence. They started with six of last year’s squad in the lineup and the understanding between those players was the key to Wigan’s dominance of the match.
Wingers McManaman and Beausejour constantly threatened, until the former was taken off after 67 minutes. In the first half we saw calm, patient build ups with the ball passing through a very capable midfield trio. Even goalkeeper Carson played his part, making short passes, rather than hoofing the ball upfield as has been his wont on previous occasions.
With better finishing Latics could have won the match by at least five clear goals. Powell was guilty of wasting several chances, but his effort and technique cannot be faulted. He is already starting to look like a top quality centre forward, although it is not his natural position. There is no question that he is a future England player.
Once more Latics took their feet off the gas in the second half, allowing the visitors back into the game. It has happened so many times this season. Some say that the root of the problem is a lack of fitness.
However, it is nothing new and happened under Martinez too. Apart from the epic cup run, Latics have not had a winning mentality. Constantly struggling against the elite clubs of the Premier League is not good for a team’s psyche. It is going to take some time for Latics to get back that winning mentality and not pay overdue respect to the opposition.
Maribor’s goal should have been avoided. Tavares was the only opposition player within yards of Mendy’s cutback, but nobody marked him.
Scott Carson: 8 – not overworked but inspired confidence when he made interventions. His superb save in the closing moments kept Latics ahead.
Emmerson Boyce: 7 – solid in defence and linked up well with McManaman.
Ryan Shotton: 6 – exposed for the Maribor goal and not at his best.
Leon Barnett: 6 – needs to build up more of an understanding with Shotton to be at his best.
James Perch: 6 – solid, but limited in attack.
Ben Watson: 8 – getting back to his best. Hardworking and cultured in his passing. It was good to see him getting into the penalty box for his well taken goal. Substituted after 77 minutes.
James McArthur: 9 – covered every blade of grass on the pitch, a midfield dynamo. It has not been an easy season for the Scot, adjusting to the Championship, but he is back to his best.
Jordi Gomez: 7 – much more effective in his natural role as the midfield playmaker. However, he will need to fight to keep that position with Shaun Maloney and Nick Powell also in the frame.
Callum McManaman: 7 – gradually getting back to form. Looked dangerous at times, although well policed by the Maribor defence. Substituted after 67 minutes.
Nick Powell: 8 – dangerous throughout. Spurned some chances but was a real headache for Maribor’s defence.
Jean Beausejour: 8 – a cultured attacking display from the Chilean. Set up great opportunities with his sublime crossing. Made an outstanding defensive intervention in his own penalty near the end with his defence all at sea.
James McClean: – poor. His lack of close control let him down on too many occasions.
Chris McCann: – came on for Watson after 77 minutes. A cultured midfield player who has received few opportunities so far.
Nouha Dicko: – brought on in stoppage time at the end of the match.