Fulham 1 Wigan Athletic 1: Di Santo redeems himself

DiSanto

A game of two halves for Franco Di Santo. Prior to this match, the Argentinian had not scored a goal since the beginning of October. The way he played in the first half reflected as much. In the first five minutes he somehow managed not to hit the net from two yards out, the ball trickling from his boot to the goalkeeper following a lovely move involving James McCarthy and Shaun Maloney. Even his usually excellent approach play wasn’t quite up to his usual standards as frustration set in. Shortly before half time, a neat backheel from James McArthur led to Emmerson Boyce putting over a great cross that a more accomplished Premier League striker would have poached — Di Santo put it over.

Roberto Martinez had gone into it with a conservative line-up. He packed the centre of midfield with David Jones, James McArthur and James McCarthy, while Shaun Maloney was employed in the second striker role. Fulham had strangely started without a recognized holding player to compete for midfield possession.  After Fulham had taken the lead in the 22nd minute with a spectacular goal from Giorgos Karagounis it looked like Wigan had a hill to climb and their lack of cutting edge was cause for concern. Neat approach play is to no avail without clinical finishing.

As the second half progressed the need for another forward became even more apparent. However,  in the 66th minute Jordi Gomez was brought on for David Jones.  Wigan reverted to a straight back four, with Gomez and Beausejour pushed into wide midfield positions. Although the move resulted in Wigan having two players in wide positions who do not have the speed to get past opposing full backs, the change of shape galvanised their play.The chief beneficiary was Shaun Maloney, who dropped deeper into the playmaker role, and dictated Latics’ attacking play from that moment on. Di Santo and his teammates  improved and the revived Argentinian went near with a quickfire volley before scoring a gem of an equalizer in the 71st minute. His confidence restored, he went close to a winner minutes later.

After a horrible injury to Ivan Ramis in the closing minutes Wigan fell apart and it was only an amazing goal line clearance from Maynor Figueroa that stopped them losing a match they had deserved to win.

The Good

A valuable point gained at a ground where Latics struggled so much in the past. The defence was disciplined and alert.  Wigan played skillful football and created chances. The reemergence of Franco Di Santo from the doldrums bodes well in the absence of the accomplished Arouna Kone. Wigan played with spirit and the result will help boost morale, following a poor run of results.

The Bad

Wigan’s cruel luck continues with a bad ligament injury to Ivan Ramis, who had done so much to neutralise the threat of Dmitar Berbatov.  Wigan had the better share of clear scoring opportunities and could have brought home three  points rather than one.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 6 – a quiet afternoon.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 – very solid in defence, reading the game well, using his considerable experience.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – played the major part in keeping Berbatov at bay. Solid in defence and possibly a big loss for the rest of the season. Let’s hope not.

Gary Caldwell: 8 – marshalled his defence, excellent in positioning and tackling.

Maynor Figueroa: 7.5 – saved two points with a stunning goal line  clearance. Disciplined and solid  in defence.

Jean Beausejour: 6 – gradually regaining his touch. Worked hard in defence and put in some nice crosses.

James McCarthy: 7 – consistent as ever. Looked classy.

James McArthur: 6 – worked hard, tackled well and put through some nice passes.

David Jones: 6 – hard working,  but  wish his passing would be more incisive.

Shaun Maloney: 7 – much more comfortable in the playmaker role. At the heart of the second half revival.

Franco Di Santo: 6 – a game of two halves , but good to see him back on form in the last half hour.

Substitutes.

Jordi Gomez: – played out of position on the right and had little input on the game as a result.

Ronnie Stam: came very late in the game, but his lapse could have led to a defeat in added time.

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Liverpool 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Captain Caldwell stars as Latics claim historic win

Wigan’s strong run of recent form finally yielded the three point return it deserved on Saturday, in the least likely of places, and from the least likely of sources. Captain Gary Caldwell was the hero with the sort of poacher’s finish Anfield-goers came to expect of Robbie Fowler or Michael Owen. Indeed, everyone looked a bit bemused when the Scot recovered from the initial shock of finding himself with the ball in the box to turn Andy Carroll the wrong way and coolly slot past Pepe Reina. The Scot epitomizes the the determination and grit that has been on display in the club’s recent matches and his strike was well worthy of its place in the history books.

Earlier in the game, his compatriot Shaun Maloney had put Wigan 1-0 up from the penalty spot. Martin Skrtel, a bad choice for a babysitter, thwacked Victor Moses across the chest and face as he was trying to head a looping Gary Caldwell ball over Pepe Reina. It was clearly a penalty, but the type of decision Wigan too frequently don’t get awarded away against the big boys. Maloney took his opportunity perfectly, blasting low and left to claim his first goal for the club.

Moses, meanwhile, spent about 10 minutes on the sidelines, concussed, before it was determined he would not return. Reduced to ten men, Latics were forced to weather some Liverpool pressure, with Ali Al-Habsi making two fantastic saves from Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard to keep things even before Albert Crusat was introduced to make numbers even again.

Kenny Dalglish must have done a fair bit of shouting in the dressing room at half time because Liverpool returned with urgency and dynamism. The second half had hardly gotten under way when good link-up play between Suarez and Gerrard led to an equalizer. Gerrard was in acres of space on the left when he squared for Suarez, who deposited the ball neatly into the same corner of the net Maloney had minutes earlier. Latics were shaken, and a pivotal moment would soon follow.

Suarez wriggled past Figueroa on the right wing, the Honduran tugged him back, earning a yellow card for his troubles. Steven Gerrard whipped in a trademark far post cross, which Martin Skrtel headed into the ground, over Al-Habsi, toward the Wigan goal. Luis Suarez ploughed into Gary Caldwell, ramming his knees into the Scot’s chest, and appeared to use his arm to send the ball across the line. Caldwell hit the ground, the ball went into the back of the net, and Liverpool celebrated. After a good 15 seconds of celebration, referee Lee Mason called the goal back, booking Suarez in the process.

The decision, once again, was clearly correct, but one suspects it might have gone differently at Old Trafford. The incident killed Liverpool’s momentum and let Wigan back into the match. Having struggled for possession in the second half, Martinez gambled by removing Jean Beausejour and introducing Ben Watson, changed the team’s shape to his more traditional 4-5-1. The tactical rethink was immediately effective, with Latics controlling possession for a sustained period before Caldwell struck the winner. It worked so well, in fact, that Latics went closer to a third through Conor Sammon, after a terrific diagonal through ball from Maloney, than Liverpool went to an equalizer.

Ali Al-Habsi was called to attention once or twice more but looked sharp. Exciting 17-year-old Raheem Sterling and his pace was a bright note for Liverpool but Wigan held on for three points of gold.

The Good:

The result, and the confidence and belief that should follow it. There was some sloppy passing in the first half, a backs-to-the-wall sequence at the start of the second half, but the defending was generally solid and four clear cut goal-scoring opportunities were created.

The Scots. Shaun Maloney and Gary Caldwell scored the goals and enjoyed strong performances. But James McArthur and James McCarthy (almost/arguably Scottish) have been instrumental to the Wigan revival of late. Their work ethic is second to none. Even Maloney, more of a flair player, showed he is willing to get stuck in with a lunging tackle in the build-up to the first goal.

The Bad:

Victor Moses’ selfish streak. Again, when presented with the opportunity to lay the ball off to a teammate for a tap-in, he decided to go it alone. That said — lets hope he recovers after his concussion,  there were no fractures or lasting effects, and we see him back on the pitch next week.

Conclusions:

Having spent the previous weekend peppering Ben Foster and West Brom’s goalposts only to emerge with a single point, this was a deeply satisfying reversal in which Latics converted two of their four  chances, were composed and solid in the lead, and came closer to a third than Liverpool did to an equalizer. Wins like this instill real belief in players. We’ve now only lost one in seven, and it shows. Jean Beausejour is starting to show tricks down the left wing. Shaun Maloney looks fitter. James McCarthy has started shooting again. Gary Caldwell scored a goal with his feet! These are all signs that our players are starting to believe, to regain their confidence. It is a shame, in a way, that the Stoke match is next, given the club’s historical difficulty winning two games in a row. Another huge match beckons.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 8 — Made two or three top class saves to keep the Latics in the lead. Such an agile shot stopper, a pleasure to watch.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Strong, solid, coped well.

Gary Caldwell: 9 — Another excellent performance, capped off with an unlikely goal none of us will forget anytime soon.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Struggled with Suarez. The goal came down his side, although not his fault entirely. He gave away the free-kick that led to the disallowed second goal.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Decent, hard-working shift down the right.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — Very neat footwork, looked confident but only had the chance to deliver two or three crosses. Substituted in the second half to allow for tactical re-shape.

James McArthur: 7 — I wouldn’t like to play against him, he’s like the energizer bunny, only tougher.

James McCarthy: 8 — See James McArthur, but gets an extra point for one or two lovely positive attacking passes.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Took his penalty expertly, created a clear chance for Conor Sammon late on, neat with his passing. A breath of fresh air.

Victor Moses: 7 — Created and then missed a chance in the opening minutes, when he could have easily laid the ball off. Fouled and injured for the penalty. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — The lad doesn’t score many goals but you have to appreciate his work rate and sacrifice. Often isolated, he ran his socks off for the cause.

Subs:

Albert Crusat: 7 — Not much opportunity to show his attacking skill, and out of position for large chunks of time on the right, he tracked back dutifully and didn’t waste the ball.

Ben Watson: 8 — His introduction saw Latics regain possession. Nice to see him back.

Conor Sammon: n/a — Not on the pitch very long. Had a chance late on. Hard to say that he “missed it” but “might have done better”.

Wigan Athletic 1 WBA 1: Mauro who? Latics robbed

A terrific team display once again ended in frustration for Wigan Athletic, as their 21 shots — 3 of which hit the post — amounted to just one goal, the same as the rather fortunate West Brom. Roberto’s team is surely playing the best football a team in its league position has ever played, and yet it also appears to be the worst at finishing opportunities in all four professional leagues.

With apologies for the late match report, these extra few days of reflection have brought me a frustrating conclusion. We already have a player who could have made the difference — Mauro Boselli. At risk of incurring the wrath of Cockney Latic, this would have been the type of game that would have seen the Argentine thrive.

During Boselli’s frustrating time at the club, the club’s attacking strategy was quite different. Wingers played on opposite sides, there were no wingbacks. N’Zogbia attacked on the right, Rodallega on the left, both cut in to shoot more often than cross the ball to the centre-forward. The role of the centre-forward in that case was that of a target man, someone to hold the ball and lay it off to the skillful, goal-scoring wingers. A role more suited to someone with the traits of say, Franco Di Santo. Boselli — a forward’s opposite of Di Santo, that is, a poacher — was largely starved of service in that team.

If Wigan had 21 shots the other day there must have been at least 30 crosses into the box, many of which were top quality deliveries. Jean Beausejour was simply outstanding — a wonderful performance full of energy, invention and the full range of crossing — curled, lofted, driven, measured. Victor Moses was dangerous in flashes and Emmerson Boyce was as involved as anyone on the pitch, bombing up and down the right flank. Even Maynor Figueroa found the space to get forward from his centre-half position to deliver a couple tantalizing balls into the box. For all Di Santo’s effort and mobile build-up play, all the Latics needed in this game was a finisher. Is there a recall clause in Boselli’s loan?

Probably not, but it wouldn’t happen anyway. Hugo Rodallega is apparently fit to play Liverpool this weekend.

But back to the match. Di Santo had a hat-trick of chances in the first 10 minutes. Emmerson Boyce and James McCarthy, with a close-range header and top-of-the-box screamer respectively, were denied by the crossbar. Ben Foster was enjoying the game of his life. Shaun Maloney, in for Gomez in the attacking midfield role, was clearly not match fit but still a big improvement on the Spaniard’s recent performances. He has imagination, the vision to break down a defense with a pass or stepover. James McCarthy and James McArthur dominated midfield, as has become their custom — it’s hard to imagine a gutsier pair in there; honest, tough, and cultured with their passing. The defense looked good.

Latics finally got their reward in the second half in the scrappiest of ways. Victor Moses’ dangerous cross hit a West Brom defender and was bundled over the line by James McArthur. It’s not often that a Wigan supporter breathes easy, but West Brom had shown so little that I admit there were a couple minutes during which I believed we could go on and win this one comfortably. A foolish thought, as minutes later Paul Scharner equalized from an unmarked header, from a corner.

At one point, Yusuf Mulumbu, frustrated at James McArthur’s relentless harrying, should have been sent off for retaliation when he pushed the Wigan midfielder right in front of the referee. If McArthur had gone to ground, it would have been red. If it had been McArthur and not Mulumbu who did it, it’s possible it would have been red too.

Mohamed Diame came on and again was guilty of missing the best chance of the match after Beausejour yet again did the hard part, laying a low cross into his path. Albert Crusat hit the post yet again in the dying moments, but it wasn’t to be.

In mid-week news, Queen’s Park Rangers somehow beat Liverpool 3-2 and Blackburn Rovers have gone three points higher after beating Sunderland. Grim news indeed.

The Good:

The team performance. Roberto’s game plan. They did everything they could. Real urgency, real effort and everyone played very well, except Di Santo — who was not bad, but also didn’t score.

The Bad:

Switching off for one crucial set play to allow Scharner to equalize against the run of play. The finishing. The fixture list and the league table.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Not to blame for the goal. Didn’t have much to do.

Antolin Alcaraz: 7 — Was excellent but looked like he should have been marking Scharner for the goal.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — Another good performance from the Scot, who has been very impressive of late.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Solid at the back and delivered one or two great crosses. Should not be allowed to take free-kicks though. Specially when Shaun Maloney is the other option.

Emmerson Boyce: 8 — Bombed up and down, was as involved as anyone, almost scored. But isn’t a natural finisher.

Jean Beausejour: 10 — The Chilean gets the first 10/10 on this website. He didn’t put a foot wrong. His crosses would have resulted in a hat-trick for a proven Premier League goalscorer. Or Grant Holt.

James McCarthy: 8 — The build-up to his shot that hit the crossbar typifies him. Excellent, strong tackle to win the ball, on his feet in a flash, beautiful technique in the shot. But we need him to be near the box more frequently.

James McArthur: 8 — Another good shift. Misplaced the ball a few times in the first half, but made up for it with the sheer number of yards he covered, not least when scoring the goal.

Shaun Maloney: 7 — Showed flashes of what he is capable of, but this was his first start for the club in a long time, and wasn’t totally sharp. Still, he will play a big part in the run in.

Victor Moses: 7 — Quiet in the first half but created the goal with a nice piece of skill.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Everything but the goals.

Subs:

Callum McManaman: 5 — Had his chance to be a hero, but nerves and enthusiasm got the better of him. Spurned a glorious chance when caught frozen in the box, and then over eagerness saw him shoot into the stands. Still not ready, on this showing.

Mo Diame: 6 — As against Norwich, was dangerous when he came on but missed the best chance of the match.

Albert Crusat: 7 — Only on the pitch a few minutes but combined well with Jean Beausejour and hit the post.

Wigan 1 Norwich 1: Could have been worse, should have been much better

Match Report: Wigan Athletic 1 Norwich City 1

It is widely accepted that newly promoted teams are at their most dangerous in the first half of the season. Wigan Athletic was not the only club to discover that last year, with Arsenal losing at home to Blackpool and United being humbled at Burnley the year before that. Supporters are out in droves in the stands (the brighter their kits the greater odds of success, apparently), and on the pitch, sheer energy, belief and that winning attitude that comes from promotion, tends to mask inadequacies that so often prove the downfall later in the year.

Yesterday was another example. Though at  times sloppy and indecisive, Latics were a league above Norwich in terms of quality and pace, but the newly promoted side gave it all and got their reward. Poor finishing (two Di Santo headers, Sammon), some brave last ditch defending (De Laet from Rodallega and Moses), the Norwich keeper’s right post (denying Watson a sublime strike from the outside of his right boot), and an uncharacteristic blunder from keeper Ali Al-Habsi kept Latics from taking three points in this one, but sometimes you create your luck, and Norwich did just that.

You can read a more traditional match report here, along with Roberto’s post-match comments (more on those later), but for the time being here are the positives, the negatives, and some player ratings:

Positives:

Lots of goal-scoring chances. Victor Moses must have set a record with the amount of times he went past defenders. He is fantastic to watch and will only get better. Finishing needs work, although he did provide a sublime cross that Di Santo somehow managed to head over the bar. Moses needs to keep a cooler head when stepping into the box. N’Zogbia had that ability to pick out a corner, take his time, curl the ball rather than blast it. Moses tends to snatch at the ball, rushing hit shot. He’s a work in progress, but Norwich certainly couldn’t handle him.

Ben Watson gets better and better. Roberto tipped him for an England call-up this season. He’s an odd player, deceptively skillful;  he took his penalty very well, hit the post with a lovely strike in the second half, and almost set up a winner from the left wing after uncharacteristically beating the Norwich right-back for pace and sliding a cross in.

Maynor Figueroa looked lively, bursting forward and delivering two fantastic crosses, one of which Sammon should have done better with. He looked a bit tired toward the end with a few stray passes, but the side will need him joining the attack as he did yesterday. Probably benefited from Norwich’s concern with Victor Moses down that left flank. Theirs should prove an important partnership as the season goes on.

Negatives:

Poor finishing. Di Santo and Sammon both should have put the game to sleep, but Mo Diame also had a golden chance and went for a Hollywood lob from 4o yards out when he could have waltzed in and laid the ball of for Di Santo or finished himself. Moses might have done better with his final pass or shot on several occasions. Rodallega, on as a sub, looked lively, but you wonder if he would have scored at least one of those crosses had he been in the center-forward role rather than out wide.

Adrian Lopez had an absolute nightmare. Out-muscled, out of position and dodgy in possesion, you had to feel sorry for the guy after missing 10 minutes of the first half getting stitches after a collision with Norwich’s Morison, who by the looks of things has a very hard head. I assume, though haven’t confirmed that  neither Alcaraz nor Gohouri were fit enough to play, but based on this performance, it might be a better option to play Emmerson Boyce in the center with Caldwell, and give Stam another chance at right back.

Poor Al-Habsi. Bad mistake, cost the team two points. I hope, and doubt, it will happen again.

Player Ratings:

Al-Habsi:  4 — Didn’t have much to do, but made a fatal mistake and it visibly affected him for the rest of the match.

Boyce: 5 — Solid, but didn’t get forward much. If Jordi Gomez is going to be playing on the right wing, he will need to make overlapping runs, or that side of the pitch will be completely wasted.

Caldwell: 6 — Solid enough as well, can’t fault him for much, though it appeared he and Lopez had met in a bar the night before the match. But he did make some important blocks.

Lopez: 3 — Really dreadful. A liability. Had to get stitches early in the match, but he’d made a mistake before that, in the buildup to the collision. Looked uncomfortable, too slight against battering rams like Holt and Morison, and it was a relief when Martinez finally withdrew him.

Figueroa: 7 — Very positive attacking play. Used his pace well and looked dangerous. Norwich eventually started fouling him. Delivered a couple crosses that should have led to match-winners.

Watson: 7 — Looked a little rusty, but it promises to be a breakthrough season for him. What a shame his shot didn’t bounce in off the post.

Diame: 5 — Good on the ball, and went on some trademark mazy runs, but ultimately wasted the ball, and faded out of the match for minutes at a time. So much potential, but needs to keep his focus.

McCarthy: 5 — Clearly bothered by the ankle injury sustained against Villareal, James was very quiet by his standards. Played two very classy balls that could have led to goals, but the team will need him fit and firing this season.

Jordi Gomez: 5 — Not a right winger. You can’t really say he did much wrong, but his lack of pace makes that part of the field a non-threat. I suppose he could have been dangerous on set plays if there had been any, but there weren’t.

Moses: 8 — They didn’t know how to handle him. Just needs to work on his finishing, but constantly went past defenders as though they were training cones.

Di Santo: 6 — An infuriating player. Looked energetic and won the penalty (and then made a meal of what might have been a second penalty at the end of the first half), but showed again his lack of finishing. That said, Latics looked less of a threat when he went off.

Subs:

Rodallega: 6 — Looked lively and had one decent effort, and another blocked by about five Norwich defenders. But might have won the match if he’d been playing centrally. Why not put Di Santo out on the left for a bit and move Roda inside?

Sammon: 4 — Uncomfortable on the ball, he ran around a lot but squandered his only chance.

Stam: 5 — Not on the pitch too long, he was Ok.

In Conclusion:

Roberto said after the match that the squad needs two more faces. He also clarified that the recent bid for Peter Odemwingie, West Brom’s excellent striker, was not intended as a replacement for Rodaellega but as an addition. (Phew). Unfortunately, we won’t get him anyway. But assuming at least one of the new arrivals is a decent winger able to play on the left and allowing Rodallega to move inside, I think things look alright. McCarthy will become a key player once his ankle heals. Alcaraz should be back soon, and how he was missed yesterday. Al-Habsi will hopefully bounce back as he did after his only other costly blunder against Man City last year. This should have been three points, but there are enough positives to give hope. And it’s one more point at this stage than last year.

En Español:

Al-Habsi: 4 – No tuvo mucho que hacer, pero cometió un error fatal que visiblemente lo afectó durante el resto del partido.

Boyce: 5 – Solido, pero no consiguió avanzar mucho por esa banda derecha. Si Jordi Gómez va a jugar de puntero derecho, Boyce tendrá que tomar mas riesgos para evitar que ese pasillo derecho se pierda por completo.

Caldwell: 6 – Tambien solido, cumplio.

López: 3 – Realmente terrible. Incómodo con la pelota, perdio el duelo con el delantero Morison, y casi le regala el segundo a Norwich con un pase inexplicable a Ali Al-Habsi. Tiene que mejorar. Sustuvo un fuerte golpe a la cabeza empezando el partido y volvio a la cancha con diez puntos.

Figueroa: 7 – Muy positivo, se lanzo al ataque con peligro. Mando un par de centros que debieron haber terminado en gol.

Watson: 7 – Este promete ser una gran temporada para él. Cobro su penal con autoridad, y por poco gana el partido con un tremendo derechazo.

Diáme: 5 – Vivo y con buena gambeta, pero desaprovecho una exelente oportunidad en la primera parte intentando un tiro espectacular, y se luego se perdio. Mucho potencial, pero le falta concentracion.

McCarthy: 5 – Un poco callado, probablemente por la lesión en el tobillo que sufrio contra el Villareal. Puso dos pases esplendidos que podrían haber marcardo la diferencia. Pero se espera mas de el.

Jordi Gómez: 5 – No es un puntero derecho. No es que alla hecho algo malo — incluso no perdio la bola ni una sola vez — pero su falta de velocidad significa que por costado no hay amenaza.

Moses: 8 – Un crack. Sólo le falta frialdad a la hora de definir, pero tiene fuerza, velocidad, y un dribbling espectacular. Norwich no pudo con el.

Di Santo: 6 – Un jugador exasperante. Corrio, lucho, se gano el penal, pero mostró de nuevo que no tiene definicion. Pero le hizo falta al equipo cuando lo sustituyeron.

Subs:

Rodallega: 6 – Peligroso cuando entro, pero es mejor como centro delantero. Sigue siendo el mejor definidor del equipo. Ya recuperado, tiene que ser titular contra Swansea.

Sammon: 4 – Incómodo con la bola a sus pies, corrió y lucho, pero desperdició su única oportunidad.

Stam: 5 – Solo jugo diez minutos.