Wigan Athletic 0 Aston Villa 0: A point earned or two points lost?

Wigan Athletic’s second 0-0 of the season, in what was probably the most predictable result on the fixture list, seems to be sparking far more debate than the rather more colourful affairs we’ve graced. Was this a missed opportunity after another frustrating display of poor attacking play, or should we be grateful for the point, the clean sheet and move on?

The match itself was not one for the neutral. Latics controlled possession, passing commendably despite a torn up pitch (thanks rugby), but didn’t create anything of note. Villa waited patiently, breaking dangerously through Robbie Keane and Darren Bent, but found Al-Habsi at his best. Jean Beausejour’s contribution down the left has resulted in an increased volume of crosses, but there remains no one with the striking instincts, or heading ability, to meet them. Wigan logged 14 corners without coming close to scoring from them. Is Lee McCulloch available?

Victor Moses’ head was sadly stuck firmly in the “down” position, at one point failing to realize there was no one was within 30 yards of him before booting in a cross down the right wing. Hugo Rodallega came on and was immediately involved in Latics’ two best chances — the first, a neat turn and decent left-footed curler that sailed over the bar; the second a difficult half volley after Victor Moses appeared to have been felled in the penalty area. For all Franco Di Santo’s exemplary running around and skill on the ball, he never seems to get himself into these types of situations.

Aston Villa delivered a classic Alex McLeish performance, collecting yellow cards for cynical fouls and hoping for a piece of magic from one of their talented front men, or a lucky bounce from a set piece. Latics may yet go down but at least we don’t have to watch that sort of muck.

Despite seven minutes of injury-time — as a result of Darren Bent’s injury and the Gods of football plea for a goal — it ended 0-0.

The Good:

Our third clean sheet of the season. Gary Caldwell, Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa all had excellent games. Despite being a virtual spectator in the second half, Ali Al-Habsi made two fantastic saves in the opening 15 minutes that eventually earned the side a point. A lot of credit for the recent defensive improvement must also go to James McArthur, who put in another inspirational shift of effort and graft in midfield. It was a sign of how highly his contribution is valued that Roberto opted to keep him on the pitch, instead asking James McCarthy to make way for Mo Diame in the second half. Jean Beausejour deserves a mention for his increasingly influential performances down the left. Before his arrival, Latics were depending on Ronnie Stam’s crosses from the right. While many of us would like to see them both on the pitch, it has to be said that Emmerson Boyce’s inclusion has also contributed to Latics’ best defensive performances of the season of late.

The Bad:

The final third of the pitch. Jordi Gomez and Victor Moses, the men charged with creating chances, had bad games. Jordi wasn’t noticeably bad, he just wasn’t very noticeable. Which is bad. Victor Moses was involved in Latics’ most promising play but was again let down by hesitancy or that frustrating final pass. Jordi enjoyed a fantastic run of form over the Christmas period, while Moses is up and down. We need one of them to deliver in games like this. It’s the type of game that Charles N’Zogbia might have won for us last year. A Jordi free-kick or a bit of Moses magic is due. Incidentally, the aforementioned N’Zogbia spent most of the afternoon on the Villa bench. What a waste.

Two points lost or a point gained?

While it does heap pressure on the next fixture, I don’t see this draw as a big problem. Of the next three, Latics probably need 6 points: Swansea (h), Norwich (a), and WBA (h). Results elsewhere this weekend were favourable. Most encouraging was QPR’s loss to Fulham. QPR still face the league’s top six clubs in their remaining 12 games. Blackburn and Bolton both lost to strong opposition, but a more important loss to Blackburn came in the form of Christopher Samba’s transfer to Russia — an important player and leader for them. Wolves may have gotten a point at Newcastle but failed to appoint a new manager of any pedigree, and still look in deep trouble. Latics’ next match against Swansea is pivotal. If we fail to win that one, we are going to be in need of points at places like Anfield or Stamford Bridge, not a situation we want to put ourselves in. We hit the post three times last time we played Swansea. A bit of luck this time could see us out of the bottom three.

A Neutral Would Say

Villa had a couple chances but were an eyesore. Latics deserved a goal for all their possession, corners, and pressure.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 8 —  Didn’t have much to do, but kept things even with two excellent first half saves.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Looking very strong in recent matches.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — Excellent performance again from the captain.

Maynor Figueroa: 7.5 — Doesn’t get a lot of credit for it, but makes a lot of headed clearances. Neither Caldwell or Alcaraz are particularly tall as far as centre-halves go, his height is important.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — A wonderful moment for Boycey after he broke the club’s record for Premier League appearances (146), previously held by Paul Scharner. But it was one of his weaker performances, it looked like his legs were failing him. He did make one crucial second half tackle to block a Robbie Keane shot, however. While Ronnie Stam offers a more exciting option at right wing-back — and certainly a fantastic option from the subs bench — Boyce’s experience, defensive solidity, and occasional burst forward might make him a safer bet in the starting lineup for the run-in.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Neat in possession, the Chilean played some nice balls into the box, and didn’t shy away from his defensive work either.

James McArthur: 8 — Great tackling, simple distribution, he is becoming a leader by example.

James McCarthy: 7 — Similar to James McArthur, but has more to offer offensively.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Not creating enough.

Victor Moses: 6 — Needs to be more decisive when he’s in the box with a shooting opportunity. And more thoughtful when he’s outside the box, looking for a teammate.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Did his job well, worked very hard, but wasn’t really anywhere near the score sheet.

Subs:

Hugo Rodallega: 7 — Immediately involved in Latics best chances. A neat turn and left-footed shot, following by a half volley after Moses went down in the penalty area.

Mo Diame: N/A — Would like to see him back in the starting lineup against Swansea.

Albert Crusat: N/A — Came on late.

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Swansea 0 Wigan 0: Unlucky Latics settle for draw

Match Report:  Swansea City 0 Wigan Athletic 0

As we suspected in our match preview, this was an extremely tricky fixture against a side celebrating its return to the top flight for the first time in twenty-odd years. We felt it would be evidence of the progress Wigan has made over the past couple of years if the team was able to grind out a result, and they did that and more. Swansea possessed and pressed, and enjoyed the first half without finding that bit of quality in the box, while the Latics who so often play that role in games, waited patiently, absorbing their opponents energy, breaking with with pace and quality. In the end, Latics should have walked away with three points; Jordi Gomez hit the post with a sublime lob, then won a penalty which Ben Watson had saved, while Victor Moses, again the main threat, hit the crossbar.

Positives:

Tactical discipline. It was not a pretty first half, but Roberto knew Swansea would be fired up and start the match strongly. The team defended patiently, easing into the game rather than trying to match Swansea. Very rarely did the Latics leave themselves exposed in that first half, save one early chance Al-Habsi saved from Danny Graham. As Swansea grew frustrated at the lack of a breakthrough, Roberto gave the team a bit more license in the second period, and it’s frankly a bit baffling how one of those chances didn’t go in to give the Latics three points.

Jordi Gomez. Possibly his best match in a Wigan shirt, he popped up on the right wing, on the left and through the center. Rather than playing a more traditional role on the wing that has never suited him, he was allowed to roam, and he got himself into good positions on more than one occasion. If it was painfully sad that his left-footed lobbed shot didn’t win it for the side, it must have been even worse to watch the Swansea keeper save Ben Watson’s penalty, which he had earned. Lets hope this proves a breakthrough season for the Spaniard.  

The defense. Everyone did their part. Gary Caldwell, who has played with three partners at center-back in two matches, was assured and commanding. Figueroa made some outstanding tackles, Boyce was reliable as always, and even Ronnie Stam, usually an uncomfortable defender, stuck to his task and kept them out. Al-Habsi bounced back from his blunder against Norwich with a couple decent saves and a clean sheet.  

The result. To get a draw against a newly promoted team in their first match on their home patch is tough. Mission accomplished.   

Negatives:

Fitness of the squad. Antolin Alcaraz was substituted about twenty minutes in with a leg problem, possibly his knee, thus explaining his absence against Norwich. Franco Di Santo ran his socks off but appeared to suffer some sort of injury before being replaced by Hugo Rodallega. James McCarthy once again did not look himself, misplacing passes and earning himself a yellow card out of frustration. He was substituted halfway through the second half. And most worryingly of all, Victor Moses was forced to play the final 15 minutes of the match on one leg after straining a muscle (hamstring, probably) on his way to hitting the crossbar. All substitutions had been used up by that point. 

A Neutral Would Say: 

Swansea started stronger and were a bit unlucky with their finishing, but Wigan should have won this one in the second half. 

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6.5 — Tested two or three times but a clean sheet should help restore his confidence.

Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Mr. Dependable, he is one of the most likable players around. Started at right back but quickly moved into the heart of defense when Alcaraz limped off. He defended well and it’s great to know he is still comfortable slotting in given the defensive injuries in the squad.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — Solid and commanding,  but also a good passer of the ball, which he rarely gets credit for. Coped with a pacy Swansea attack.     

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Commentators were criticizing him in the second half after a small lapse in concentration but I thought he made some excellent sliding interceptions that could have led to shots on goal. Nathan Dyer was a tough opponent and put some nice crosses in, but Fig had to play the last 15 minutes without help from the injured Moses. In attack he was patient and passed the ball well.  

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Went off early in the match, lets hope it’s not a bad injury. 

Ben Watson: 6 — Busy, but a little less incisive than last week. Didn’t find the space to get forward as he did against Norwich. His penalty miss was costly.

James McCarthy: 5 — Something is wrong with him. He misplaced numerous passes and looked frustrated until replaced by McArthur in the second half.

Mo Diame: 6 — Decent workrate and got into shooting positions a couple times, but tends to go for the fancy long range or left-footed volleys when simpler options are available.

Victor Moses: 7.5 — Again Wigan’s most dangerous attacker, he got past his man on multiple occasions, played some nice crosses, but lacked the coolness to finish his chances. Hitting the woodwork was a bit unlucky though. Wigan needs him fit, lets hope his injury is not a long-term one.

Jordi Gomez: 8 — His best half in a Wigan shirt, he popped up left, right and center and deserved to score. Also won the penalty.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Worked very hard, showed some nice touches and passes, but had little service. Almost created something for himself in the first half, spinning around his two markers before the keeper beat him to the loose ball.

Subs:

Ronnie Stam: 7 — Did his job defensively, and played a delicious driven cross that Rodallega might have gotten on the end of. 

James McArthur: 6 — His first Premier League match in quite some time, he got beaten several times and resorted to professional fouls in areas of the pitch that a better team might have capitalized from. He has some talent though, and it was his first-time  through ball that Moses latched onto when hitting the bar. 

Hugo Rodallega: 6 — Quiet by his standards, but most of the time he was on the pitch, Moses was already injured, depriving him of an attacking partner. Still, came close to a couple dangerous crosses and might’ve poached one.