Wigan Athletic 2 Newcastle United 1: Great escape still on, just

KoneWigan emerged with three vital points by the hair on their chinny chin chins as Arouna Kone netted a somewhat fortunate last gasp winner to make the score 2-1. A Davide Santon equaliser on 70 minutes had swung the game Newcastle’s way after Wigan had largely looked in control, and both managers had signaled their intent with attacking substitutions. Jean Beausejour had scored his first goal for the club since arriving just over a year ago after excellent work from Callum McManaman early in the affair.

The win means three of the bottom five won this weekend, narrowing the gap between them and the middle of the table. Roberto Martinez has frequently spoken of a team higher up in the league becoming embroiled in the relegation battle, and so it seems with Sunderland, Norwich, West Ham — and Newcastle themselves — once again failing to win.

The good feeling had returned to the DW before kick-off thanks to the stunning 3-0 win at Goodison Park a week earlier, and the buzz created by the crowd translated into endeavor on the pitch in a strong and committed first half. Martinez was rewarded after surprising many by keeping his cup XI intact, as the lively McManaman repeatedly beat his man down the right flank and crossed only for the ball to bounce Beausejour’s way to put Wigan up. It was the young winger’s first league start, and despite being involved in a dangerous tackle later in the half, his performance should see him cement his place in the starting line-up come next weekend.

There were worrying signs after Newcastle leveled against the run of play, but lady luck smiled on the Latics as a corner bobbled wildly before bouncing off Kone’s outstretched leg to dramatically settle the contest.

The Good: 

An absolutely crucial and decisive result that breathes fresh hope into Wigan’s annual push for survival, and sends a message to the teams around them. With a second consecutive home tie against beatable opposition, there is a real opportunity to build momentum and make up some ground in the table. It is now four wins in five matches in all competitions and two in three in league play.

Martinez’s gamble paid off. Despite a couple wobbly moments, Joel Robles held his own between the sticks, while Jordi Gomez and McManaman performed well in midfield, and Antolin Alcaraz was once again excellent in defense. These were the four changes made to the side for the success at Everton and they may well have cemented their places in the team for the next few fixtures.

Wigan managed to do what they had thus far failed to do — grind out a result.

The Bad:

The way heads dropped after Santon’s equaliser was a concern. Before James McCarthy’s speculative cross led to the corner that ultimately won them the game, Wigan had not looked like scoring during the period of the match with a 1-1 score line.

Player Ratings:

Joel Robles: 6 — Looked confident, showed comfort on the ball, but flapped at a couple crosses. Considering the intensity of the occasion, however, this was a strong league debut for the young keeper. It is looking increasingly likely he will be signed permanently in the summer if terms can be agreed upon.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Disciplined defensively and occasionally burst forward, though often without support.

Antolin Alcaraz: 9 — Marshaled his defence with the composure, strength and speed that has so sorely been lacking this season.

Paul Scharner: 8 — Some excellent tackles, particularly in the first half. A couple panicky moments in the second but overall defended very well.

Maynor Figueroa: 7.5 — Probably should have blocked Santon’s goal-bound shot, but was otherwise excellent. Strong in his aerial defensive play and played some stunning cross field passes.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Tireless. Covered a lot of ground, threatened to burst through on a couple occasions.

Jordi Gomez: 7 — Good first half with some good interceptions and slide tackling. Faded in the second.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Also strong in the first half from his more advanced wing position. It was a pleasure to see him score — the goal was reward for a player who started the season poorly but has quietly regained his form.

Callum McManaman: 8 — He fades out of the match for periods of time, but every time he was on the ball he made things happen. His pace and dribbling added a new dimension to Wigan’s attack, and his quick feet and cross created the first goal.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Full of invention as always, unlucky not to score with a trademark curling effort in the first half and created several opportunities of danger that his teammates were unable to capitalise on.

Arouna Kone: 7 — Worked hard up front as lone striker and got his reward as he prodded home from the right place at the right time. Heavy touch on occasion, but his goal haul for the season has already been an improvement on any other striker in the Martinez era.

Subs: 

James McArthur: 8 — Came on as a defensive replacement for Callum McManaman and played very well, disrupting play and driving forward.

Franco Di Santo: On for the last ten minutes but couldn’t really get going. His presence unsettled the Newcastle defence in the build-up to the winner.

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Wigan Athletic 2 West Ham 1 -Champagne football returns to the DW

The slim margin on the DW scoreboard betrayed a thoroughly dominant, flowing performance filled with invention and verve that might have ended up in a +3 or +4 margin on another day. Save for a scrappy opening six minutes, Wigan recreated the stylish, exciting form show in last season’s glorious final chapter.

The Good:

Almost everything. More than half the team put in their strongest performances of the season, with special praise reserved for Shaun Maloney who orchestrated almost every Wigan attack with clever flicks, darting runs, and eye of the needle through-balls. Maynor Figueroa recovered from a tired performance at Swansea with a masterful display at the back and some stunning passing. Ivan Ramis’ goal should be up there for goal of the season. James McArthur and James McCarthy were phenomenal and it is only a shame Jussi Jaaskelainen denied the latter a line amongst the goalscorers with an excellent first half save. Jean Beausejour and Emmerson Boyce, in different ways, were extremely effective on the day. And there was a return to form for Gary Caldwell.

The result was crucial. Microphones clearly picked up Roberto’s instructions to “keep it” with ten minutes to play, despite the ease with which Latics were cutting through West Ham’s back line. While many of us were craving that third killer goal, the manager knew that securing three points unspectacularly was more important. The win boosts the club’s points tally but more importantly provides a shot of confidence and a platform to build on. Not many teams will beat Wigan in that sort of home form.

The Bad:

The fact that the margin did end up so slim is a reminder that finishing must improve. Arouna Koné was energetic, skillful and always dangerous, but fluffed his lines on a couple occasions and should have put the game beyond reach. Franco Di Santo, playing a slightly deeper role, found himself shooting hopefully from outside the box when better options might have been available. Both had good games though — the partnership shows great promise.

Final Thoughts: 

What a shame Ryo Miyaichi was not on the bench for this one. The speed with which Wigan were breaking in those final 20 minute was impressive — he would surely have capitalized on the by then very leaky West Ham defence.

The fact that Ronnie Stam was on the bench for a league match raised a few eyebrows. Word on the street is that further Premier League appearances would activate a clause in his contract. Perhaps Roberto now believes he is ready to challenge Emmerson Boyce on the right, and may be worth the money such a clause might cost the club? Or perhaps it was a reminder to Boyce that his place is not automatic. Either way — it was nice to have him as an option, and Boyce responded with a strong performance.

Player Ratings: 

Ali Al-Habsi: 8 — Looked bright and confident, made one or two crucial saves.

Maynor Figueroa: 9 — Strong in the air and on the ground, and his passing was sensational.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — A return to form at the heart of the defence. A little shaky in the opening minutes as he tested the waters with Carroll, but dominant as the game went on.

Ivan Ramis: 9 — What a goal. Looks better every match.

Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Plays a much more defensive role than his counterpart on the left side, but was intelligent with his passing and movement when he did get forward. Did his part defensively — West Ham’s wingers were ineffective.

Jean Beausejour: 8 — Strong performance from the Chilean, who was unlucky not to score with a fine left-footed strike in the first half. Lost Tomkins for the consolation header but was impressive throughout.

James McArthur: 9 — How pleasing to see him take his goal so well. Worked his socks off as always, but has understated quality about his game too.

James McCarthy: 9 — Also fantastic in the centre of the park. Very pleasing to see him shooting with greater frequency, and getting forward more often. He doesn’t often have the opportunity to show his pace, but when Watson replaced Di Santo and McCarthy was pushed slightly further forward, he led the counter-attacking charge on more than one occasion.

Shaun Maloney: 9 — Outstanding. Has found his home.

Franco Di Santo: 8 — Very good work rate and hold up play, quality passing. Didn’t have any clear chances but the ovation he received upon being substituted shows how appreciated he is these days.

Arouna Koné: 7.5 — Tricky to grade this performance. He was a constant threat, constantly got past his man, but guilty of missing a  couple quality chances.

Subs:

Ben Watson: Looked almost surprised at how much time he had on the ball, so exhausted were the West Ham midfielders after being given the Jimmy Mac runaround for 80 minutes. Played some nice football in his time on the pitch and freed James McCarthy into a more attacking role.

Swansea City 2 Wigan Athletic 1: That sinking feeling

Without doing a terrible amount wrong, Wigan Athletic has found itself sinking into the all-too-familiar lower depths of the Premier League. We might be telling a very different tale if Arouna Koné’s headed equaliser had not been incorrectly disallowed for offside, but in the end those small margins told and it was another tight loss. There have been several of them in recent weeks against beatable teams — Fulham, Sunderland, and now Swansea — in which the side showed positives but failed to get the result. The good news is that fellow basement dwellers Southampton, Reading, Aston Villa, Norwich City and QPR look a weaker set of competition than last year’s pack.

Of the aforementioned strugglers, Norwich were the only team to secure three points this weekend with a shock 1-0 victory over Arsenal. Chris Hughton’s side deserve full credit for an excellent performance, but it is no coincidence they got the result following an international break. Like Swansea, Norwich looked fresh and full of zip — both squads have few internationals and benefitted from two weeks of focused training. Like Arsenal, a majority of Wigan’s starting XI had played two matches in the previous week, spread across the far corners of the world. Between Al-Habsi, Figueroa, Beausejour, Caldwell, McArthur, McCarthy and Koné (who admittedly did not play but had an eventful week nonetheless) — Latics players covered four continents and hundreds of thousands of miles before this fixture. Thank goodness Barbados wasn’t playing. Maynor Figueroa, whose Honduran national team secured qualification after thumping Canada 8-1, certainly looked like he was in a different time zone.

A detailed analysis of post-international results will follow next time there is an international break. But in the meantime, it seems fair to raise the question why Roberto is not leaning a little more heavily on his squad for these fixtures based on recent post-international break results?

The Good: 

Despite a sharp-looking home performance from Swansea, Latics kept them out in the first half, and looked the more incisive team on the counter. James McArthur showed some touches of real class and vision. Arouna Koné was very good, despite seeing relatively little of the ball. After Latics conceded and bodies were pushed forward, Shaun Maloney was excellent, getting on the ball, making things happen.

The Bad: 

Figueroa had a bad day. The marking for the second goal was non-existent — they appeared to stand still as Michu ran in to score. The team didn’t show real urgency or ambition until it was 2-0. All of which was a shame against a team that demonstrated their attacking threat but were defensively wobbly throughout. Opportunity lost.

Player Ratings: 

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — Caught flat-footed on the first goal, but there was not much he could do about either. Made one or two decent saves before then.

Ivan Ramis: 6 — Solid until he lost sight of Michu for the second goal.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Solid until Hernandez got the better of him for the first goal.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 — Not solid. Looked out of sorts, substituted to accomodate an attacking tactical change.

Emmerson Boyce: 6.5 — Brilliant improvised goal, but didn’t have an easy afternoon with Routledge in fine form.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — Cracking cross for Koné, which would have been the equaliser but for an errant offside call. Also played a delightful ball in for Koné, which the Ivorian couldn’t make the best of. Need him to get forward more often.

James McArthur: 7.5 — Some real quality from the Scot, who always puts the miles in defensively but rarely gets a chance to show his skill.

James McCarthy: 6 — Not his strongest performance.

Shaun Maloney: 7 — Always trying to make things happen. But his finishing should have been better with both a first half opportunity and a disappointing second half free-kick.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Only got one chance and telegraphed it.

Arouna Koné: 7 — Strong performance that deserved a goal. His strength and pace are impressive, but he showed he can dribble and head the ball as well. The complete striker — just needs a bit more service and luck now. Took a heavy touch on a lovely Beausejour cross, mind.

Subs:

Ben Watson: N/A — His introduction saw a formation change, which resulted in more bodies forward and sustained pressure on the Swansea rearguard. It also left Latics’ defense a bit exposed.

Jordi Gomez: N/A — Went backwards too many times, to the support’s frustration. Played so well in the corresponding fixture last year, maybe he should have been brought on sooner — before goals were needed urgently. Urgency is not his strong suit.

Mauro Boselli: N/A — No service, barely touched the ball.

Fulham 2 Wigan Athletic 1: Tired Latics beaten at the death

Fresh from earning what were probably the two best results in the club’s history, Wigan Athletic this time succumbed to a late 2-1 defeat against bogey team Fulham.  Though organized and well drilled, Roberto’s men were visibly tired and lacked the verve of recent performances.

The loss would not have been quite so damaging had QPR, Blackburn and Bolton not all picked up points (3, 3 and 4 respectively) in their fixtures. The good news is that Aston Villa are now well and truly involved, sitting only two points above the Latics with three games to play.

The early calf injury to Franco Di Santo was a warning. Roberto had opted to keep the same XI that performed so well against Arsenal, prioritizing momentum over freshness. After all, how can you drop a player after their involvement in back-to-back wins over Man United and Arsenal? But it was clearly a match too many. Even James McArthur looked tired and was eventually substituted in the second half.

Still, Latics were hard to break down and managed to take a surprise lead through an Emmerson Boyce thunderbolt from the edge of the box, his first of the season. Within minutes it was level, however, when the impressive Pavel Pogrebnyak struck a venomous shot through three Wigan defenders into the bottom corner of the net. Strong Fulham pressure ended in two clear scoring chances bouncing off the post, before Boyce gave away a cheap free-kick, from which Philippe Senderos headed home in the last minute of regular time. With Victor Moses marked out of the game, Latics struggled to create anything of note going forward.

The Good:

Despite the result and performance, Latics were hard to beat and almost came away with a point against one of the in-form teams in the league.

The Bad:

Franco Di Santo’s injury was a shame, given his strong form of late. Conor Sammon is a likeable player, but doesn’t have his skill-level. Perhaps a chance for Hugo Rodallega to make a final, crucial contribution to the club that gave him his big chance?

Battle on:

QPR delivered another upset against Spurs, but are level on points with Latics and must play Chelsea and Man City away, and Stoke at home. Their giant-killing has come at home, and it really is hard to imagine them coming out of those matches with more than 4 points. That said, Chelsea are likely to be exhausted after 4 matches in 9 games, and playing most of that grueling Barcelona affair with ten men.

Blackburn won their absolutely-must-win fixture against Norwich, but also face two extremely difficult trips to Spurs and Chelsea. And of course, the home fixture against us.

Bolton unfortunately beat Aston Villa last night, which I admit I didn’t see coming however bad Villa have been. They, along with us, have the most favorable fixtures of the teams involved. Sunderland and Stoke away — neither easy, but both against mid-table teams with little to play for — West Brom and Spurs at home.

Aston Villa look very poor at the moment and have an interesting last three games: West Brom away, Spurs at home, and Norwich away. They could win any of them, but in current form could lose them all too. A wildcard in the fight, but we’re glad they’ve joined the fun.

Wigan – Newcastle is a mouth-watering affair. The Geordies have some magical players in top form — Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Cisse have been a joy to watch. Demba Ba and Cheik Tiote are not half bad either. They sit three points clear in fourth place and are chasing an unlikely Champions League berth. All to play for. I feel a draw would be a good result for Latics in this one. If Blackburn and QPR lose to their top tier opposition, the point should be enough to ease pressure on that away Blackburn fixture.

Wolves, of course, are down already. But they will be playing for pride, under no pressure, on the last day of the season.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Not at fault for the goals but didn’t make many saves either.

Antolin Alcaraz: 7.5 — Solid.

Gary Caldwell: 7.5 — Solid.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 — Cool under pressure.

Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Scored a fantastic goal, but gave away a needless foul that led to the winning goal.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Tired.

James McArthur: 7 — Struggled to own the midfield as he has done recently. Though he still got more touches than anyone else.

James McCarthy: 6 — A bit absent in this one.

Jordi Gomez: 7 — Got into decent positions but his finishing let him down. Substituted for Shaun Maloney.

Victor Moses: 6 — Kept very quiet in this game. The downside of his excellent performances against the big boys is that he will be singled out for special attention for these last three matches.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Couldn’t get into the game, then went off injured.

Subs:

Conor Sammon: 8 — Lots of effort but no service.

Shaun Maloney: 7 — Neat when he got it, but couldn’t create anything of note.

Ben Watson: 6 — Brought on to reclaim the midfield, but it didn’t work.

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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”.