A controversial refereeing decision was a hammer blow for a Latics side that was back to playing good football and a goal ahead. If they could have kept their lead they would have qualified for the Round of 32, as Zulte Waregem were to lose at home to Rubin Kazan. The decision made for uneven contest and hard though Latics tried it was to prove not enough.
It is ironic that this should be the match in which the referee became the issue. Up to this point the standard of arbitrage in the Europa League games had made that of the Championship look woeful in comparison.
Latics were a goal up when a shot from the edge of the box hit Chris McCann’s arm. McCann had turned his back to the shot and the ball hit an upraised arm. It was clearly not intentional, but the Polish referee Szymon Marciniak not only gave a penalty, but also gave McCann a yellow card. Since he already had one after 25 minutes he was sent off.
In the space of a minute Latics went from euphoria to despair. They had matched the home side, playing neat possession football, going ahead with a penalty from the rejuvenated Jordi Gomez after a foul on Nick Powell in the 41st minute. Not long before the Spaniard’s superb free kick had hit the post. Then a minute later came the worst case scenario, although Carson parried Dejan Mezga’s penalty kick on to the post the ball rebounded back to the same player who scored.
Uwe Rosler put out as positive a lineup as he could, given the resources he had. James Perch came in at right back, Thomas Rogne in the centre of defence and Jean Beausejour at left back. James McArthur and Chris McCann were in the holding midfield roles. Callum McManaman played on the right, Roger Espinoza nominally on the left. Nick Powell was the lone centre forward, with Jordi Gomez playing in the ‘hole’ behind him
It was refreshing to see the style of football Latics played, even in the early stages. The ball was on the ground, they looked comfortable and although they did not create clear-cut chances early on they nullified the home side.
It clearly suited the ex-Martinez players, who looked a class above what they were under Owen Coyle. Gomez, Beausejour and McArthur in particular looked classy and clearly enjoying their game.
The sending off completely changed the match. Wigan brought on Ben Watson after half time to replace McCann, having to sacrifice McManaman who had looked lively on the right wing.
10 men Latics continued to play with spirit and skill but a superb strike from outside the area by Zeljko Filipovic put the hosts 2-1 up. As Wigan pushed forward Nusmir Fajic took advantage of the space available and should have added to the home team’s tally, but hit his shot wife when one on one with Carson.
From then on it was all Wigan. The Maribor penalty area was besieged, especially in the last 10 minutes of the match.
Marc-Antoine Fortune had come on for Powell after 65 minutes and he was unlucky in the closing minutes as Handanovic, at full stretch, pushed his shot away. The big keeper then saved a powerful drive from Watson.
In the end Latics could not get that equalizer and Maribor marched on to the next round.
What a pleasure it was to see Latics playing good football again. They looked like a re-energised team.
There was a clear tactical formation and each player played his part for the full 90 minutes. The distribution from defence was much better as the centre backs resisted hoofing the ball or making back passes to the goalkeeper. Instead they made short passes to midfield players who dropped back to receive. Carson managed to minimize his habitual punts up field, instead trying to find a team mate closer by.
Playing Beausejour at left back was an attacking move. It is always going to be a gamble, given his defensive frailties. However, the Chilean effectively played as an extra attacker, helping build up moves and putting over tantalizing crosses. Having Espinoza playing on the same side meant that there was going to be some cover if the ball was lost.
Jordi Gomez was a revelation in the creative midfield role. He was tireless in his efforts and his passing was excellent. There has been a lot of conjecture as to whether Gomez can function in the high tempo style that Rosler is going to demand. This performance suggests he can make the transition.
Latics still lack a central striker who can make a difference. Maribor were rocking in the last ten minutes, but there was just no one to put the loose balls into the net.
Scott Carson: 7 – did all that was asked of him defensively, including a penalty save. Rosler has clearly spoken to him about his distribution, which was much improved.
James Perch: 6 – looked much better on the right flank than on the left.
Leon Barnett: 6 – solid in defence.
Thomas Rogne: 6 – solid and his distribution was much better.
Jean Beausejour: 8 – back in from the cold. A fine performance of attacking full back play.
James McArthur: 7 – deservedly made captain for the night. Looked like the player he was under Martinez. Substituted after 73 minutes.
Chris McCann: 6 – unlucky to be sent off.
Jordi Gomez: 8 – endured trying times under Owen Coyle, but must have impressed his new manager with an excellent performance.
Callum McManaman: 7 – although often surrounded by two or three defenders he stuck to his task and looked useful. One superb cross could have led to a goal, but the central defender got to the ball before Powell. Substituted after 45 minutes.
Nick Powell: 7 – good to see him back on form. He could well be a permanent fixture at centre forward under Rosler. Substituted after 65 minutes.
Roger Espinoza: 6- not at his best and ran the risk of being sent off after a yellow card in the first half. Nevertheless added energy to the team and put in some nice passes.
Ben Watson: – not at his best and almost gave away a goal with a sloppy back pass. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the Rosler style of play.
Marc-Antoine Fortune: – desperately short of goals, with just one to his tally all season. When he has got in shots on goal the goalkeeper has made great saves, as did Handanovic in this match. Could play a role out on the flanks in the new system.
Emmerson Boyce: – came on after 73 minutes, with Perch moving to midfield.