An 87th minute headed equalizer by Dean Hammond robbed Wigan Athletic of a merited victory over a fine Leicester side. Despite an uncertain opening Latics had attacked with exciting abandon until the closing minutes when tiredness crept in. It was a game full of good football and a treat for spectators.
As expected Uwe Rosler played a backline of three central defenders, but surprisingly brought in Rob Kiernan in place of Leon Barnett, who was on the bench. Ivan Ramis and Emmerson Boyce made up the trio. As in the Watford game Rosler pushed his wing backs – James Perch and Stephen Crainey – well forward, effectively creating a five man midfield, together with James McArthur, Jack Collison and Jordi Gomez. Nicky Maynard and Nick Powell played up front.
Nigel Pearson had made six changes to his lineup, but his team remained formidable opponents with their high pressure approach, full of good movement off the ball. The Foxes could have had a goal after just three minutes, Ramis clearing Liam Moore’s header off the line. Wigan had been under considerable pressure in those opening minutes but rallied, taking the game to the visitors. They took the lead in the 37th minute when Ramis headed home from an accurate Gomez free kick. However, the Foxes equalized four minutes later with a fine goal from Andy King, who turned and placed a low shot beyond Al-Habsi’s reach in the right hand corner of the goal.
The advent of the second half saw Wigan’s high tempo approach unsettling the visitors’ defence and it was no surprise that Latics got their second in the 62nd minute, Kiernan heading in his first professional goal from a Gomez corner. Latics continued to play in an attacking, cavalier fashion and another goal looked due. James McClean had come on for Maynard after 52 minutes and his direct running caused more problems for Leicester, but his finishing did not match his promise. Marc-Antoine Fortune was introduced for Powell after 66 minutes as Latics continued to attack.
The central midfield trio for Latics had been dominant in the second half, but the tiring Gomez was replaced by Josh McEachran after 79 minutes. Leicester had started to apply pressure and Latics looked in need of their second wind. In the 87th minute Crainey gave away a free kick and Hammond rose to equalize. There were to be 5 minutes of added time but a tired-looking Latics managed to hang on for a well-earned draw.
Following a lethargic display at Bolton this was quite the opposite. Latics tore into Leicester and with better finishing would have got the win they deserved. It is a tribute to the manager and his squad that they could play a game at such high tempo despite it being their 51st encounter of the season.
The midfield was outstanding. Collison fits into the system seamlessly, McArthur and Gomez were excellent in their passing and recuperation of the ball. Penalty misses aside, Gomez is playing the best football of his Latics career.
With the wing backs pushed so far forward the 3-5-2 system at times resembled 3-3-4. Playing with such attacking abandon places a heavy reliance on the backline, but the trio held things together under pressure. Moreover they contributed the two goals. Kiernan was a revelation. Eyebrows were raised when he was given the nod over the popular Barnett, but he defended well and his passing was much improved. Having fine passers of the ball like Boyce and Ramis playing alongside, he followed their example. His goal was well deserved.
The lack of a natural goalscorer in the team is Latics’ Achilles Heel. The game should have been killed off in the second half, but there was nobody with the composure needed to convert chances to goals. Maynard and Powell looked lively in the first half, but could not score. The attacking duo of Fortune and McClean in the second half looked promising, but neither has a pedigree in turning chances into goals. Callum McManaman, more of a natural goalscorer, remained on the bench despite a good performance at Bolton.
Ali Al-Habsi: 7 – did all that could be expected of him.
Emmerson Boyce: 6.5 – not at his best, but has a calming influence on his defence.
Ivan Ramis: 7 – defensively sound and passing excellent. Topped off a good performance with a goal.
Rob Kiernan: 8 – calm and solid at the back, did not waste the ball and got a fine headed goal.
James Perch: 6 – worked hard.
Stephen Crainey: 7 – clearly enjoys playing in the wing back position. After a difficult settling-in period at the club, he is becoming a real asset. Full of energy and commitment.
James McArthur: 8.5 – a classy display from a very accomplished midfield player.
Jack Collison: 7 – kept things ticking over, making himself available to receive passes, solid in his tackling.
Jordi Gomez: 8.5 – an all-action display from the technically gifted player. What a change there has been in his play since Rosler arrived.
Nicky Maynard: 6.5 – good movement, tried hard. Taken off after 52 minutes.
Nick Powell: 6 – looked promising but could not deliver. It was good to see him played in a more central role. Taken off after 66 minutes. The fitter he gets the more dangerous he will become to opposition defences.
James McClean: – added energy to the attack, coming on after 52 minutes. He is an exciting sight when he attacks defences like this. Hopefully the finishing will come as he matures.
Marc-Antoine Fortune: – came on after 66 minutes but could not stamp his mark on the game.
Josh McEachran:- came on after 79 minutes.