Moses missed as Latics run out of ideas

The Wigan Athletic revival party was put on hold by an exceptionally well organized and opportunistic West Brom side on Saturday. While Roberto Martinez’s choice of “frustrating” was more than apt, the biggest takeaway appears to be that with Shaun Maloney’s impact reduced by a niggling ankle injury (that has forced him out of the Scotland squad this week), Latics sorely missed a player with the ability to unlock a defence — something Victor Moses used to do with some regularity last season.

In fact, the only memorable moment of dribbling skill resulted in Latics’ best chance of an equaliser, when Franco Di Santo skinned his man down the left hand side before Maloney blazed over. Neither Jean Beausejour nor Ronnie Stam, whose return was pleasing, possess the pace to beat their man for speed. West Brom’s centre halves had a field day clearing hopeful crosses from the box. Ben Watson’s long range strikes were the only other real threat Wigan could muster.

The Good: 

Before West Brom scored, Latics had looked dominant and fluid, if not incisive. Ben Watson was playing some beautiful stuff and was unlucky with his long range strikes. The goal was a good response. Ali Al-Habsi was fantastic. Ronnie Stam was an immediate improvement in the attacking third when he came on, although his crosses were not sharp.

The Bad: 

A lack of imagination on this display. West Brom defended in numbers and Latics could not find a way through. It would have been nice to see Di Santo on the ball more frequently, but he didn’t seem to drop deep enough to get on it. With the amount of possession around the box and Shaun Maloney struggling, Jordi Gomez might have been an option earlier in the game. It also appeared to be an ideal opportunity to give Mauro Boselli a runout, as the attacks appeared to be based on hopeful crosses into the box. He came on very late. Also a shame Ryo Miyaichi and his pace were unavailable through injury.

Conclusions: 

No cause for panic, but this match was crying out for a player willing to run at the WBA defence and force errors. It will go down as a missed opportunity. Players like Jean Beausejour and Shaun Maloney, usually excellent, have failed to convert scoring opportunities in recent matches. Ronnie Stam’s introduction suggested Emmerson Boyce’s attacking play has been acknowledged as sub-standard in recent outings.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 9 — Despite hurting his shoulder in the warm-up, he was at his very best. One save from Romelu Lukaku in the second half stands out. Top class.

Ivan Ramis: 6 — No errors, but a bit of a wobbly performance after several excellent ones.

Gary Caldwell: 5 — Unlucky with his own goal, but was run ragged by Shane Long and eventually substituted.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 – Almost gave away a goal in the first half with some casual defending. Otherwise, not a bad match.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Offered little in attack. Better when dropped to the back three.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Nice ball for Koné’s goal. Had a good first half, but his worst second half since joining the club with misplaced passes and a spurned opportunity.

James McCarthy: 7 — Strong in midfield, wish he had been able to get forward more often.

Ben Watson: 8 — Probably the best outfield performance, he was the most positive attempting through balls and shots. Gave the ball away frustratingly a few times, but if anyone deserved a goal it was him.

Shaun Maloney: 6 — Quietest performance in a while. West Brom identified him as the main man and marked him heavily, but he was also apparently carrying an injury.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Also quiet. Only really got on the ball to good effect once or twice. No shots or goal attempts.

Arouna Koné: 6.5 — Did well to stay onside for his goal. Held the ball up well but had little space to operate in, and not much service either.

Subs:

Ronnie Stam: Saw a lot of the ball and put several crosses in, all well defended. A welcome return.

Jordi Gomez: Not enough time to make an impact.

Mauro Boselli: Came on for the last 8 or so minutes, by which point Latics had lost the bulk of possession and were restricted to hopeful crosses — none of which reached him.

Wigan Athletic 1 Fulham 2: Finishing lets Latics down

We suspected in our match preview that this would be battle of the strikers, so the sight of Franco Di Santo in a suit on the sidelines was a damning one. Fulham’s expertly taken goals stood in sharp contrast to a handful of clear opportunities Latics squandered before Arouna Koné halved the margin in stoppage time.

In fairness, Roberto’s men were a bit unlucky. Jordi Gomez hit the crossbar with a vicious left-footed strike, Ivan Ramis had a header tipped onto the bar by Mark Schwarzer, who always reserves his best for the DW. Arouna Koné latched onto a quick-thinking through ball from Shaun Maloney but took a heavy touch and lost the chance. Mauro Boselli was presented with a golden opportunity after good work from James McCarthy, but dinked wide. El que no los hace los ve hacer. If you don’t take your chances, you’ll watch them being taken. Just as Latics seemed to be turning the screw, Bryan Ruiz somehow managed to hold on to the ball at the top of the box long enough for Damien Duff to find space, take a touch and effectively seal the three points with a clinical strike. Despite the introductions of Callum McManaman and Ryo Miyaichi, both positive and adventurous, it took Latics just too long to get one back.

Hugo Rodallega has rightly been praised for his muted celebrations, after he finished off a Dimitar Berbatov floater in the first half. The Colombian was energetic throughout, while the Bulgarian oozed class. Latics’ overall performance could be summed up as inconsistent — the passing at times sloppy and unambitious, at others incisive and sharp. Ben Watson, handed a rare start to allow McArthur time to heal from his ongoing back problems, exemplified this. His range and quality of passing is excellent. But he also gives the ball away and offers less steel. He created some of the best openings but frustrated at times too.

Speaking of steel, Antolin Alcaraz has been sorely missed. Ivan Ramis shows all signs of being an excellent long-term signing for the club, but the understanding developed between the Alcaraz-Caldwell-Figueroa axis took years to build. The Paraguayan’s absence has coincided with two of the softest defensive performances since January of this year. There has been a lack of intensity in the past couple matches. Roberto has acknowledged as much, and one suspects that the return of the tireless McArthur, Di Santo — and hopefully Alcaraz — will correct that.

All in all, a bit unfortunate. The Lee Probert sandwich was a highlight. But it’s time to get some more points on the board.

Player Ratings: 

Ali Al-Habsi: 7.5 — Back to form after a troubled second half at Old Trafford. Made some good saves.

Ivan Ramis: 6 — A welcome aerial threat on set pieces. Defense was wobbly throughout, though.

Gary Caldwell: 5 — An off-day for the normally reliable captain. Out-jumped by Rodallega for the first goal. Subbed off in the second half.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Quiet in possession and attacking thrust. Duff was unmarked for the second goal.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Wasn’t used much on the right, although he is clearly a target for far-post crosses from the left. Missed one such opportunity in the first half, heading wide.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Got into decent positions and floated a few useful crosses into the box, though some of them felt more hopeful than purposeful.

Ben Watson: 6 — At times incisive and inventive, but also wasteful. Why was he taking a direct free-kick when Maloney and Jordi were standing next to him?

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Had a good game, unlucky not to have played a big part in an equalizing goal after Schwarzer saved his second half effort, only for Boselli to missed the tap in.

Shaun Maloney: 7 — As ever, Latics most inventive player. Played a fantastic through-ball to Koné when it was still 1-0 that would have evened things up.

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Unlucky to hit the post with a fabulous effort, he does drift into goalscoring positions, but also sometimes slows down attacks but turns backwards or sideways.

Arouna Koné: 6.5 — Took his goal well, and showed on a couple occasions the tremendous burst of pace he possesses. Looks a good signing. Shame he couldn’t finish his one-on-one.

Subs:

Mauro Boselli: Only had one chance, but missed it unfortunately.

Callum McManaman: Positive, ran at people and played his part in the goal.

Ryo Miyaichi: Saw a lot of the ball in his minutes on the pitch. His final pass needs refining but bags of potential.

Wigan Athletic 0 Swansea City 2: Martinez under pressure as former club out-Roberto’s him

Dark days at the DW as Roberto Martinez’s Wigan were outdone by a side he assembled and styled, but couldn’t break down. It was a painful, if strangely comforting realization that while Swansea are currently much better at executing the Spaniard’s footballing vision, at least they are living proof that it can actually work.

This fixture had been seen by most Latics supporters as a must-win — indeed three points would have boosted the side out of the relegation zone. It was one of three winnable fixtures before the terrifying weeks ahead involving trips to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, the Emirates, and the visit of Manchester United. Swansea, while a respectable side, had a poor away record, and we had deserved to win the reverse fixture. The mood before kickoff was optimistic.

Of course, it all went wrong. Martinez’s team selection has been criticized by just about everyone including Dave Whelan, who took issue with the absence of “three quality players” in the starting lineup — presumably Mo Diame, Hugo Rodallega and Victor Moses. The manager has since attributed their omissions to the effects of travel from the international break, with one player arriving late Friday night ahead of the Saturday afternoon kickoff. While this was true of Diame and Moses, both in Africa on international duty, it was not so of Hugo Rodallega, who has long lost his place in the Colombian national squad.

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Conor Sammon at centre-forward, while Franco Di Santo would take over the free role traditionally reserved for Victor Moses. The pair delivered their weakest performances for the club, with Sammon making a mess of the single promising breakaway he was involved in and Di Santo completely lost in a position he was clearly not familiar with. Jean Beausejour was again lively in the first half, but neither Sammon nor Di Santo ever looked like tucking away his crosses. Emmerson Boyce went closest with a far post header.

Swansea had threatened on several occasions, with Ali Al-Habsi looking sharp and Gary Caldwell clearing off the line. They got their reward just before half-time, when Gylfi Sigurdsson was allowed to take two touches before curling an excellent shot past Al-Habsi from outside the box.

Martinez made two half-time changes, introducing Victor Moses and Mo Diame for James McArthur and Conor Sammon — almost to immediate effect. But just as a Latics equalizer looked possible, Sigurdsson struck again — this time from a direct free-kick. His two strikes were the kind of quality Latics have lacked this season that Charles N’Zogbia provided last time around. Jordi Gomez, one of the few in the side capable of shooting like that, has simply not done it.

He did, however, get himself fouled and Nathan Dyer received a red card to give Latics some hope. Hugo Rodallega’s introduction added a bit of movement to the attack moments later, but Michel Vorm was excellent and Wigan’s finishing was uninspired.

The Good:

Not much. Beausejour’s first half (his second was poor). Sustained pressure and a series of half chances in the second half. Rodallega when he came on.

The Bad:

This is a troublesome result. We can still survive, results elsewhere have been kind. But the club needs points urgently. If we fail to get at least 4 points from the next two matches, we could be cut adrift going into the final stretch. Roberto is hosting a Q&A with fans as I type. He needs to regain their support, and motivate his team for the crucial next two matches.

A Neutral Would Say

Latics improved dramatically with the introductions of Moses, Diame and Rodallega. But the finishing was poor. Swansea deserved the points.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 7 —  Takes some blame for the second goal, but was otherwise outstanding, making a number of crucial saves.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Not at fault for the goals.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Was enjoying a decent performance with a couple key tackles/clearances. And then the goals flew in.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Struggled with Dyer. Ironically one of Latics best attacking players when he got forward — delivered two of the best crosses all match.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Did not contribute much going forward, and had trouble with Sinclair.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Very good in first half, poor in second. It is becoming a pattern for him — lack of match fitness?

James McArthur: 6 — Worked hard but lost the midfield battle in the first half. Substituted in second.

James McCarthy: 6 — See James McArthur for first half. A bit more possession in second but no cutting edge.

Jordi Gomez: 5 — Did not produce.

Franco Di Santo: 5 — Looked lost and finished poorly, his weakest performance in some time.

Conor Sammon: 4 — Like a fish out of water.

Subs:

Hugo Rodallega: 7 — Looked far more likely to score when he came on than anyone else.

Mo Diame: 6 — His finishing was poor, but good attacking intent and skill to create openings.

Victor Moses: 6 — Bright start that faded after Swansea’s second, and the sending off.

Bolton 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Vital win kickstarts revival

Wigan Athletic took a giant step towards revival (and survival?) with a 2-1 success over Bolton at the Reebok Stadium. A loss would have cut Latics eight points adrift and delivered a probably fatal blow to the side’s morale. Instead, the gap between the bottom five has been narrowed to an encouraging two points. Better still, the squad has a tasty fixture list coming up including three home fixtures against Aston Villa, Swansea and West Brom, with a trip to Norwich in between. Without getting ahead of ourselves, things are suddenly looking up at the DW.

Martinez’s men started slowly but started to take control of the match about 20 minutes in. Franco Di Santo, working hard up front with little service, received the ball deep and weaved before fizzing a powerful attempt just over and wide. Victor Moses embarked on a mazy trademark run, crashing a left-footed effort into the side netting (a trademark finish). Bolton’s approaches were largely limited to set pieces and hopeful shooting from outside the box, while Latics enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession. Pressure finally told when Gary Caldwell impressively beat David Wheater — who must have at least 5 inches on the Scot — in the air to power home a Jean Beausejour corner late in the first half. 1-0 Wigan at half-time.

The second half started in much the same vein, with Latics closer to a second than Bolton to an equalizer. A couple of penalty shouts that Howard Webb would have awarded Man United without second thought went unnoticed before Victor Moses spectacularly lost his man down the right flank and delivered the perfect final pass for James McArthur, who could only tap straight into Bolton’s Hungarian keeper’s arms. It was the kind of killer pass that Moses has so often been unable to pick out this season, instead going for glory himself or hesitating at the last second. Roberto spoke about the work they are doing with him on the training ground to address these situations in particular, lets hope it is a sign of things to come.

It was soon deja vu, and with the chance to go 2-0 up spurned, Bolton pull an equalizer out of a hat. The buildup was classic Bolton stuff — a mighty hoof from Adam Bogdan bouncing off the unwitting David N’gog’s back. But the finish was sublime, a left-footed thunderbolt from the underrated Mark Davies. James McArthur later expressed his relief at scoring the winner because Davies was his man. But there was little he could do on this one, and it spoke volumes of Jimmy Mac’s performance that he kept Davies quiet for the rest of the match.

The response was immediate. Latics went for it. With Rodallega now on the pitch, you could see a wave of Latics players pushing forward when Victor Moses broke free on the left and ran through unopposed. His low shot had enough power for the carrot-haired Bogdan to spill it straight into the path of the sprinting James McArthur. This time, the Scot made no mistake and you could see what it meant to the players as they celebrated in front of Latics’ traveling support.

There was a final scare when the impressive Ryo Miyaichi found space in the box after neat interplay and fired off a shot, but Ali Al-Habsi was at his best to deny him a debut goal. Latics created a couple half chances on the counter, but a confused-looking Rodallega made a mess of them. Latics’ defending was steady, on set pieces in particular — enjoying the extra height and defensive nous of Emmerson Boyce at right wing-back, in addition to the three centre-halves — and they held on for three points of gold.

The Good:

The performance and result. They dominated, passed the ball well, Victor Moses created at least three goal-scoring opportunities from open play, and the defending was strong. The commitment and desire matched that of Latics’ spectacular season run-in last year. McCarthy and McArthur were lions in midfield, everyone played their part in a good team win.

The Bad:

The game should have been killed off well before Bolton’s equalizer, and it highlights Latics continued lack of confidence in front of goal. A better team — like Everton a week prior — might have punished Latics’ wastefulness. Jordi Gomez, there to provide that killer pass, was unable to create anything of note. Aside from Moses, the best chances of the game fell to Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur, hardly known for their finishing.

A Neutral Would Say

Latics were good value for the three points here, with Victor Moses in particular proving a headache for a lacklustre Bolton side.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 8 —  Didn’t have much to do, but made a match-winning save when called upon.

Antolin Alcaraz: 7 — Solid, kept it simple.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — Defended strongly and made the important breakthrough when Latics were struggling to find a way through.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Decent defensive performance.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — A good choice by Martinez for a game of such importance. Provides less going forward than Ronnie Stam, but made an important contribution.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Faded in the second half, but added another assist to his tally and was involved in much Latics attacking play in the first half. Proving a useful signing.

James McArthur: 8 — A selfless team player, he tackled well, distributed efficiently, and must have covered every blade of grass at the Reebok. The winning goal was great reward for his efforts. Has less in his arsenal than both Mo Diame and Ben Watson offensively but makes up for it in attitude. Very encouraging to see a midfielder busting a gut to get into goalscoring positions as he did twice in this match.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Showed one moment of true class with a sharp half volley pass to Jean Beausejour in the first half. Fantastic work-rate, good distribution.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Instrumental in keeping possession but ultimately didn’t create enough.

Victor Moses: 8 — Bolton couldn’t handle him. A constant menace, he created the winning goal and should have had an assist after serving it up on a platter for McArthur early in the second half.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Did his job well, had a great effort from distance, but no real scoring chances.

Subs:

Hugo Rodallega: 4 — Didn’t know what day it was. Looked confused when given the ball. A shame, because he found himself in good positions and might have killed the game off.

Dave Jones: N/A — Wasted 45 seconds coming on for Di Santo, good man.

West Brom 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Moses arrives as defensive lions roar

Three points of solid gold were obtained on Saturday as Latics clung on for a second consecutive 2-1 away victory in the Premier League. After the comprehensive home hammering by Arsenal it was clear what needed to happen on the training ground during the week, and the Latics delivered with a courageous, chest-thumping, steel-willed defensive performance.

On any other day, West Brom might’ve scored three or four, amassing 13 corners and 23 goal attempts over the course of 90 minutes. The pressure began early, with Chris Brunt, Shane Long and Jerome Thomas all going close, and Ali Al-Habsi back to his best with an instinctive reflex save. If you haven’t read The Guardian’s excellent profile on Ali, please do so here. Having survived the early onslaught, however, Wigan grew in confidence, gaining possession and making occasional forays into West Brom territory. Victor Moses created some space only to drag a tame shot wide, while David Jones willed his way through two or three defenders but failed to get a shot away. The match was turning, and Latics were the more comfortable side when Gary Caldwell was adjudged to have pulled Peter Odemwingie down outside the box. While most of us watched Chris Brunt and his hammer of a left boot, Steven Reid planted a stunning right-footed curler past Al-Habsi and into the upper left corner.

Wigan were stunned and had to keep their focus to avoid conceding again, but only several minutes later a quick break saw Mohammed Diame in space down the left wing. The man with the longest legs on the pitch intelligently drove a low ball into the box, causing a bit of panic, eventually falling to Victor Moses who beautifully curled it into the top right corner. The coolness and precision that has so far eluded him arrived in all its glory. You could see what it meant to him as he wheeled away in delight.

The feeling at half-time was that West Brom were there for the taking, and Wigan started the second half strongly, with Jordi Gomez moving the ball well in midfield, Conor Sammon putting himself about up front, and Moses electric. It was the latter who won the crucial penalty, spinning inside the area a second too quickly for hero-to-villain Steven Reid, whose outstretched leg tripped the Wigan man. It was a near carbon copy of the winner at Sunderland, as Jordi Gomez calmly tucked away his third goal in four games, and his second from the spot.

What followed was a relentless onslaught and aerial bombardment, with West Brom’s fine wing play resulting in what seemed like a cross a minute. But Latics defense, so maligned for their capitulation against Arsenal, delivered their finest performance of the season, channeling the spirit and solidity of the survival run of last season. Strengthened by the return of Antolin Alcaraz but led by the outstanding pair of Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa, they were nothing short of heroic.

On the break, Victor Moses’ trickery and Conor Sammon’s raw pace were causing problems. On one occasion, the Nigerian international broke from midfield, and having spotted the keeper of his line, attempted an audacious chip from about 25 yards out. Foster would recover, but it was the kind of arrogant attempt that has been lacking from Moses’ play, a truly promising sign from a player for whom the sky is the limit. Minutes later, he would go for glory again, when he might’ve passed to Conor Sammon, who had gotten himself in a good position at the top of the box.

Few Latics fans will have had much of their fingernails left to chew by the time Steven Reid hit the wall with an identically placed free-kick in stoppage time, but Latics resilience and sheer determination in this one, and Moses’ outstanding contribution made this the most gratifying match of the season.

The Good:

Most everything. The defence, including Ali Al-Habsi, and Victor Moses deserve all the praise in the world. Maynor Figueroa edges our man of the match award, for which there were  many candidates, delivering an all heart performance on the left side of the three man defense. In midfield, Jordi Gomez not only took his penalty as if Latics were 4-0 up and in the top half of the table, his passing was also intelligent and effective in the spells during which Latics controlled possession. Conor Sammon worked his socks off as always, but also looked dangerous on the break and should have been given the chance by Victor Moses to finish the game off. A match to inspire pride.

The Bad:

Antolin Alcaraz’s injury. After missing three matches through suspension, reports suggest he may be out until the new year with cracked ribs. He too, was outstanding in defence until his withdrawal, and will be sorely missed in the crucial tough matches ahead. Steve Gohouri looked a bit wobbly in possession when he came on, and will need to be at his best to fill the Paraguayan’s boots.

A Neutral Would Say

Huge defensive effort helped Latics edge this one, West Brom probably deserved a point.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 8 —  Made several impressive saves and couldn’t be faulted for the goal.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Very strong performance, and comfortable on the ball. His passing and distribution is the best of the centre-backs.

Gary Caldwell: 8.5 — Outstanding, commanding performance from the captain. Defending crosses suits him better than one on one situations. A bit unlucky to have been punished for giving away the free-kick that led to the goal, but made up for it.

Maynor Figueroa: 9 — He hasn’t had his strongest season, but was at his very best this week on the left side of the back three. Great to see him succeeding in the new formation.

Ronnie Stam: 6.5 — Less present in attack than in previous outings, but worked hard. Jerome Thomas gave him a hard time.

David Jones: 7 — Decent performance, particularly in the first half, with hard work and solid passing.

Mo Diame: 7 — Broke well and supplied a good cross for the first goal. Otherwise, worked hard in midfield without doing anything fancy.

James McCarthy: 7 — Solid, earned a free-kick in a dangerous position with a driving run, of which we’d love to see more.

Jordi Gomez: 7.5 — Passed the ball well, helped Latics retain possession in spells. Earned a silly yellow card for waving an imaginary card at the ref, but was influential in midfield. Latics do lack pace on his side when he plays, particularly when Ronnie Stam is pinned back by opposing wingers, but his contribution was important.

Victor Moses: 8.5 — Scored a brilliant goal, won a penalty, and troubled West Brom all afternoon. Congratulations to him, and may it be the first of many more this season.

Conor Sammon: 7.5 — Worked tirelessly and broke with pace on a couple occasions in the second half. Isn’t doing anything wrong, but still hasn’t really had any chances. What a shame Moses didn’t spot him to put the nail in the coffin on that second half break.

Subs:

Steve Gohouri: 7 — To come on as a defensive replacement in a game this tough was a tough ask. He did look nervous with the ball at his feet, but did enough to keep West Brom out. Latics will need him to be at his best in the next few games (unless Emmerson Boyce takes his place).

James McArthur: 6 — Came on for Ronnie Stam, and struggled a little bit to get into a very fast-paced game.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Came on for Conor Sammon, exhibited his usual good work ethic, and held the ball up well when he needed to buy the Latics a few seconds of respite. A bit lucky to be on the bench, he has rarely let the team down this season.