Wigan Athletic’s undefeated run goes on, this time with a narrow, but well-earned win over a cultured Watford side. Despite a miserable away record and a position in mid-table the visitors proved to be worthy opposition, being well organized and playing good football. In Ikechi Anya – born in Scotland from a Nigerian father and Romanian mother – Watford were to have the outstanding performer on the day.
Uwe Rosler sprung a surprise in his starting lineup, bringing in Rob Kiernan to make his first league start for Latics against his former club. Kiernan formed a central defensive trio with Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis. James Perch and Jean Beausejour occupied the wing back positions, with James McArthur and Jordi Gomez in the centre of midfield. James McClean and Martyn Waghorn played further forward supporting Marc Antoine Fortune.
The common misunderstanding about a team playing with three centre backs is that they are playing light on defence. The reality is that the wing backs typically come back to complete a back line of five. However, as soon as the game started Latics’ wing backs, Beausejour in particular, were pushed far forward. Rather than playing 3-4-3 it became more akin to 3-2-5.
With so many men pushed forward Latics were able to launch long passes, putting pressure on the visitor’s defence. McClean fired wide from a good position then Gomez put Beausejour through with a great ball but the Chilean could only fire straight at goalkeeper Almunia. McClean again failed to convert a chance shooting straight at the goalkeeper. With a little more composure Latics could have been 3-0 up in the first fifteen minutes. In the 18th minute Ramis rose to Waghorn’s corner but header was cleared off the line.
At the other end Wigan’s defence had held firm, despite Anya looking a threat. The Scotland international had an effort go past the post, and then could not find the target after a swift counterattack caught out Latics’ defence. McClean had another shot saved by Almunia, then his final ball let him down with Waghorn waiting at the far post.
Wigan should have had the game done and dusted but their profligacy was letting them down. In a way it did not come as a surprise when the visitors took the lead with a beautifully struck low shot from Lewis McGugan in the 36th minute. But Latics were back in the game four minutes later when Ramis’ long pass found Beausejour whose volley was blocked by Almunia, but the Chilean headed home the rebound.
Wigan took the lead on 55 minutes, Waghorn turning and firing home after McArthur had scuffed his shot. Latics brought on Jack Collison for Waghorn after 61 minutes, then Nick Powell for McClean eight minutes later. Gomez and Beausejour had efforts go wide before Watford started to apply concerted pressure in the last 15 minutes with Latics tiring. Anya had a chance go narrowly wide of the post, then could not finish a good opportunity after getting behind Thomas Rogne who had come on for Kiernan.
McArthur was to miss a sitter near the end as the ball had been pulled back to him.
Despite having to play five minutes of added time Wigan held on for a deserved win.
Rosler launched Latics into this game with their guns a blazing. Rarely over these past years have we seen Latics push so many men forward from the very start. His tactic of pushing the wing backs well forward led to Beausejour finding himself practically in a centre forward position on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately the wing back does not have the clinical finishing abilities of a good centre forward, being unable to put away his first opportunity, but scoring his second from the rebound.
With the wing backs coming forward McClean and Waghorn were given the opportunity to play more central roles, supporting Fortune. We have seen great improvements in the Irishman’s finishing over these past weeks, but in this match it was lacking. However, he remained a threat to the Watford defence before being taken off midway into the second half. Fortune was his usual self, full of endeavour, linking up well with teammates.
Gomez proved that he can do a good job in a midfield holding role, together with the industrious McArthur. The Spaniard must have covered every blade of grass on the pitch, tackling, intercepting, and receiving. He is benefitting from as long a run of matches as he has received in his five years at the club. Apart from his industry, his touch was excellent and he sprayed out some great passes.
Kiernan looked comfortable in the role on the left hand side of the line of centre backs. He made a few misplaced passes in the first half but showed his worth defensively. Collison came off the bench and soon looked at ease. He could prove a valuable loan signing.
Once again Latics flagged in the last 15 minutes and were put under pressure by Watford. Powell came on to play in a wide position, where he overindulged at times. Hopefully Rosler will use him in a central striking position over the coming matches.
Ali Al-Habsi: 7 – did all that was asked of him. Could not be faulted for the goal.
James Perch: 7 – as hard working and dependable as ever.
Emmerson Boyce: 7 – he and Ramis formed a formidable partnership in the centre of defence.
Ivan Ramis: 7.5 – see above. Unlucky with his header on goal and his passing as good as ever, including the pass for Latics’ first goal.
Rob Kiernan: 6 – solid in defence.
Jean Beausejour: 8 – an excellent performance in his favourite position as wing back. Must have impressed his family who were over from Chile and at the game.
James McArthur: 7 – a model of consistency in the middle of the park.
Jordi Gomez: 8.5 – superb in midfield.
Martyn Waghorn: 6 – took his goal well, but otherwise rather subdued.
Marc Antoine Fortune: 7 – full of running and endeavour.
James McClean: 6 – got himself in great positions but could not deliver. Nevertheless a handful for the Watford defence. Substituted after 61 minutes.
Jack Collison: -came on after 61 minutes. Looked the part.
Nick Powell: – came on after 69 minutes. Frustrating.
Thomas Rogne: – came on after 79 minutes.