Wigan Athletic 1 Sunderland 4: Scoreline deceives as Black Cats punish Latics

We felt in our match preview that this was a tough time to play Sunderland, a revitalized side brimming with confidence after claiming Manchester City’s scalp on the weekend. Rarely will you see two strikes as sublime as those of Craig Gardner and James Vaughn in the same 90 minutes, and indeed it seemed everything went Sunderland’s way. But the scoreline, and headlines in most of today’s publications, paint a very false picture of a match Wigan had the better of, and should have put to bed before crucial decisions turned it upside down.

The first half was all Wigan — almost. Roberto turned a few heads with his stating lineup, resting the key duo of Victor Moses and Mohammed Diame; Albert Crusat and Ben Watson starting in their stead. The 3-4-2-1 formation that has yielded Latics best results this season was left intact. Steve Gohouri took Gary Caldwell’s position at the centre of the back three, while Dave Jones and Ronnie Stam continued as advanced wing-backs, protected by the mostly defensive central midfield pairing of James McCarthy and Ben Watson. Ahead of them, Crusat started inside left, Jordi inside right, and Rodallega up top — though such is the fluidity of this system that Jordi’s was more of a free-role, popping up left, right and center, with Ronnie Stam constantly overlapping him on the right wing.

It didn’t take long for Latics to carve out an opening, as Crusat sped down the left wing, crossing dangerously for Rodallega, narrowly beaten to the ball by John O’Shea. The passing and movement of the opening 20 minutes was hugely promising — possession at one point was 70% Wigan — although Antolin Alcaraz and Steve Gohouri foreshadowed the shambles of the second half with some risky misplaced passes around the penalty area.

Dave Jones was having his best game at left wing-back, and soon found himself in the box after fantastic interplay with Albert Crusat and Jordi Gomez. His left-footed shot beat Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet, cannoned back to Ronnie Stam, who laid it off with class for Ben Watson. The midfielder lunged with his right foot striking the other post before Sunderland defenders scrambled the ball clear.

The bad luck would continue, with Albert Crusat limping off two thirds of the way through the second half after a neat and effective display. It appeared he had taken a knee to the ribs, but reports say the injury was actually to his back. He was struggling to breathe before his substitution. Here’s for a speedy recovery as he has impressed on his displays thus far.

Victor Moses replaced him and minutes later, Jones again created space for himself in the box, this time shooting for the near post. It produced the save of the game from Mignolet, who not only blocked the shot with a steel hand but recovered in time to deny the lurking Maynor Figueroa.

It looked a matter of time until Latics opened the scoring amid the swirling rain and wind, but then came a series of unfortunate refereeing decisions. First, the fourth official signaled for five minutes of injury time — a bit excessive despite earlier knocks to Bendtner, Cattermole, in addition to Crusat. Mike Dean then failed to award Latics a corner after Antolin Alcaraz’ heavily deflected shot ran past the touchline. So obvious was the corner that Simon Mignolet sprinted off his line and dove to try and divert the ball for a throw-in. Moments later, at the other end, Nicklas Bendtner went down surrounded by Latics players — probably hoping to run the remaining minute of time down — and was awarded a free-kick. Replays would show there was no foul, but Craig Gardner would take full advantage to score the most beautiful free-kick you are likely to see this season. In the sixth minute of injury time.

To say it knocked the stuffing out of Wigan would be an understatement. Latics went in search of an equalizer in the second half but found Sunderland’s defense as resolute as Man City did days earlier. James McLean, a former Latics transfer target last season who had looked dangerous all match, popped up with a headed second before Martinez threw on Conor Sammon for Ronnie Stam. The shape changed to something of a 3-4-3-1, with Rodallega and Moses out on the wings, Jordi floating, and Sammon as target. And it was one of Rodallega’s energetic runs cutting in from the left that resulted in a deflected goal for the Colombian. At 2-1 down and the crowd back in the game, it looked like Latics had the momentum to go on and equalize, perhaps win.

But things would get worse. Maynor Figueroa appeared to be tugged by Bendtner and stopped playing as the Dane continued his run down the right wing, feeding Sessegnon for the goal that killed the game. If it was a foul, it was another awful refereeing decision just as Latics were regaining momentum. If it was not a foul, Figueroa made a terrible mistake as he might have blocked the ensuing cross had he not stopped in his tracks. Camera angles on the replay were not tight enough to draw conclusions.

By the time the fourth went in, Latics’ back three were a mess. Gary Caldwell’s presence and leadership was clearly missed, and many will be hoping Emmerson Boyce is restored to the starting lineup in Gohouri’s stead for the next two games. That said, they were isolated, playing in torrential conditions, and everything Sunderland seemed to attempt was working. When a shot was frantically blocked at the top of the box, James Vaughn unleashed a thunderbolt of a strike that none of us — Ali Al-Habsi included — saw until the replay slowed it down for us. Sunderland won’t score two goals like his or Gardner’s again this season.

It’s worth mentioning that Latics did have chances to equalize and reduce the deficit, but lacked a killer edge. The game swung on two passages of play — the Jones-Watson double-post, and the series of events leading to Sunderland’s first goal.

Opinion

It is hard to take yet another match in which unfavourable refereeing heavily influenced the outcome. Add this latest disappointment to the treatment at Old Trafford, the points lost to Blackburn as a result of Gamst Pedersen’s illegal corner, a fixture list featuring all three newly promoted sides in the first three matches of the season and the traditional big four in a row over the Christmas period — and it really does appear a concerted effort to make sure little Wigan finally get relegated to make way for a more profitable team. Phil Dowd and Mike Dean are two of the league’s most experienced referees. Andre Marriner is no longer a rookie. Why are they making these sort of mistakes? Sure, our defense eventually fell apart, but anyone watching the match up until the first goal — which should not have stood — would have told you that Latics looked destined to win this match until that free-kick was given.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 6.5 —  Not to blame for any of the goals.

Steve Gohouri: 5.5 — Almost gave away a goal in the first half. Didn’t make any glaring mistakes but his nerves had a negative effect on the other two centre-backs, who had been playing very well in recent times.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Put the defense under pressure repeatedly with misplaced passes.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Had a decent first half, but stopped playing altogether in the buildup to the third goal, which was really the nail in the coffin. Was he fouled?

Ronnie Stam: 7 — Had a very good first half, making overlapping runs down the right wing. His deliveries were top quality — we could use more attacking players who can head the ball. Also had the coolness to lay the ball off to Watson for what was almost Latics first goal.

David Jones: 7 — His best attacking display, particularly in the first half, where his intelligent passing and interplay with Crusat and Gomez led to Latics two best chances. Unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. Unfortunately, he got caught in possession in the buildup to the second goal.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — He is becoming a quality defensive midfielder. His energy levels are great, he rarely gives the ball away. I personally miss the quality of his attacking play, but it was his midfield for most of the match.

Ben Watson: 6.5 — Showed his class and technique with some lovely cross-field balls, very unlucky to hit the post.

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Was at the heart of Latics best attacking work, but grew frustrated — the conditions didn’t help.

Albert Crusat: 7 — Quick, neat passer of the ball, had a good first half before being substituted for injury.

Hugo Rodallega: 7 — No clear chances, but got a deflected goal and caused problems for the Sunderland defense. More likely to score than Conor Sammon or Franco Di Santo.

Subs:

Victor Moses: 7 — Called into action earlier than expected, started where Crusat left off proving a handful. But Sunderland had too many men behind the ball.

Conor Sammon: 6 — Again all effort but no end product.

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.

Wigan Athletic 0 Arsenal 4: Deflating afternoon as Latics get a drubbing

From the moment the lineup for Arsenal’s midweek Carling Cup match against league leaders Manchester City was announced, things looked grim for Wigan in this fixture. Wenger rested just about all of his key players against the billionaire sky blues only to unleash them fresh against second-from-bottom Wigan. It was a statement of intent from Wenger, whose focus is clearly on the Premier League this season. DW Stadium has after all, proven a tricky place for the Gunners. Latics twice came from behind in spectacular fashion to deny Arsenal in the previous two fixtures, drawing 2-2 last year and winning thrillingly 3-2 the year before. Further back, Latics fans will fondly remember Paul Scharner giving the team their first win over a “big four” team in the Carling Cup.

Despite all this, Latics started very, very well, moving the ball quickly, pressuring high, with a spring in their step after a couple of back-to-back non-defeats. It all could have been so different if Jordi Gomez had found the net when, after excellent buildup play, a David Jones cross was tipped into his path. But it wasn’t to be, and moments later a completely unmarked Mikel Arteta swerved a shot past Ali Al-Habsi, only for Thomas Vermaelen to make it two within a minute, heading from a corner. And that was basically it.

Gervinho and Van Persie would pad the score but, save for an excellent effort from outside the box by Mo Diame that might’ve changed things, the game was over when the second goal went in. Latics fell apart in all senses of the word, and despite a couple rare attacks and a decent penalty shout, it was always more likely Arsenal would score a fifth than Latics mounting any sort of comeback.

The Good:

The first 20-25 minutes. Passing the ball crisply and confidently, relatively organized at the back, they weren’t just playing well “for Wigan” they looked a better team than Arsenal.

Ronnie Stam. The new system has allowed Ronnie to play his natural position as a wing-back. It’s like having a new signing. He was again involved with most of Latics good attacking play, and showed energy and desire throughout the match.

The Bad:

This writer had high hopes that the new tactical system with three centre halves would get the best out of Gary Caldwell. He did well against Sunderland. But his lack of pace is cruelly exposed every time we play a team in the top half of the table. He was really poor. You expect him to be beaten for pace by players like Gervinho and Walcott, but he was outjumped by Vermaelen for the crucial second goal as well. If you are going to have a slow centre half you would at least hope for aerial dominance. Steve Gohouri, wobbly all season, was also poor and lucky to stay on the pitch after clearly hauling Gervinho down in the box. Alcaraz’s welcome could not come sooner, ditto Emmerson Boyce.

Less bad, but increasingly worrying is the form of Ali Al-Habsi. His mistake last week against Sunderland was forgiven after he kept Latics in the game with a string of sensational reflex saves. Conditions at the DW were extremely windy on Saturday, but he will have been disappointed with his positioning on Arteta’s opening goal. He only made one mistake that led to a goal last season (Man City, away). He’s already made three this term (QPR, Sunderland, Arsenal).

A Neutral Would Say

Wigan started brightly but were comprehensively beaten by an Arsenal team clicking on all levels.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 6 —  Arteta’s goal was the result — in equal measures — of poor marking, windy conditions, and Ali’s positioning.

Steve Gohouri: 5 — Poor. Gave away a clear penalty (clear to all but the referee) and might have been sent off for it. Generally shaky.

Gary Caldwell: 4 — Struggles against the top players. No acceleration. Hasn’t been the same since the hip operation.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — The best of the defenders.

Ronnie Stam: 7.5 — Involved in the best of the Latics attacking play, showed desire.

David Jones: 6 — Isn’t a natural wing-back but is doing alright there. His cross in the first half should have resulted in a goal. Either Sammon, or Jordi Gomez from the resulting rebound, could have scored.

Mo Diame: 7 — The only midfielder who is consistently comfortable against top quality opposition. He can tackle, dribble and pass the ball. Had a good strike in the second half that went just wide.

James McCarthy: 5.5 — Worked hard as always but didn’t contribute much from an attacking perspective. It was Mikel Arteta’s midfield on Saturday.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Might have scored when the game was in the balance. Don’t remember much else of his contribution.

Victor Moses: 6 — Bright in Latics opening 20 minutes, but was kept fairly quiet.

Conor Sammon: 6 — Also useful in first 20 minutes, then chased shadows for the rest of the afternoon.

Subs:

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Did Ok.

Albert Crusat: 7 — Lively.

James McArthur: 6 — Game was over by the time he came on.

Sunderland 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Luck turns

We asked — we begged and pleaded — for a bit of luck, and finally we have received. After weeks upon weeks of dodgy refereeing, ill-timed injuries, missed penalties, Victor Moses’ personal mission to hit the post but not score, we finally caught a break, and won a match we probably did not deserve to win.

Quite how you can play as well as Latics did away at Newcastle and lose, and then beat Sunderland as we did on Sunday, I’m not sure. Roberto tends to praise his team’s performance when results go the wrong way. This was the opposite, a decidedly average if resolute performance, but an excellent result.

Latics started like wounded dogs — after the morale crushing finale against Blackburn a week prior — and it was no surprise when Sebastian Larsson put Sunderland ahead after 8 minutes. Ali Al-Habsi made a rare mistake, spilling from Nicklas Bendtner’s optimistic shot. The Omani keeper’s subsequent block fell to the Swede, a bright light in Sunderland’s poor campaign, and he made no mistake.

Al-Habsi redeemed himself with a string of excellent saves before Ronnie Stam skied Latics’ first half-chance at the other end. It was the Dutchman’s dangerous cross minutes later, however, that led to the equaliser. Conor Sammon was a foot from connecting inside the penalty area, but when he missed Victor Moses was ready at the far post, collecting, spinning into the box and drawing a foul from Sunderland’s goalscorer. Larsson might have been better off letting the winger shoot, but having witnessed Ben Watson’s two most recent penalty efforts perhaps felt it was a gamble worth taking. Referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot and the Latics faithful breathed a sigh of relief as Jordi Gomez confidently sent the keeper the wrong way to equalize just before the half.

The second half was not one for the neutral, but Latics did look determined. Gary Caldwell in particular made a few key defensive clearances while Al-Habsi continued to make up for his early error. Conor Sammon broke excitingly from midfield before running out of ideas and being muscled off the ball in one of Latics’ more exciting counter attacks. Sunderland did some aerial bombarding, but it was all predictable and Latics three centre-halves coped with what was thrown at them. It all looked set for a bore draw when James McArthur, on for Ronnie Stam, pounced on a poor touch from Wes Brown, squaring for Franco Di Santo to tap in. A costly defensive mistake from the Sunderland perspective, a reward for a determined performance for the Latics.

Roberto spoke after the match about the healthy competition for places in the squad — the goal was a result of the energy and drive of his two substitutes. It does say a lot that Ben Watson and Hugo Rodallega — two of the first names on the teamsheet a month ago, and last season — were unused substitutes. Martinez stuck to his new tactical system, with Ronnie Stam and David Jones operating as wing-backs on the right and left respectively, ahead of the trio of centre-backs Caldwell, Figueroa and Gohouri. It will be interesting to see if he keeps faith in the system that has yielded four points from six (which would have been six from six but for the inexplicable refereeing against Blackburn) once Antolin Alcaraz and Emmerson Boyce return from suspension and injury respectively. A central three of Caldwell, Alcaraz and Boyce, or Caldwell, Alcaraz and Figueroa, is promising. And I wouldn’t mind seeing Patrick Van Aanholt, so dangerous against Everton in an attacking left-back role, at left wing-back.

The midfield was quiet, although James McCarthy did win the battle against Lee Cattermole, who was substituted for David Vaughn after an ineffectual match. The young Irishman/Scot is solid enough in that deep role, but you do feel his true potential lies in a more attacking role. Mohammed Diame was subdued, while Jordi Gomez is much less effective when the team does not control possession (although thank goodness he was there to take the penalty — who else could be trusted with it?). Victor Moses won the penalty and broke with pace on a few occasions, but didn’t have a shot on target that I can remember. Conor Sammon toiled but didn’t have much to work with.

But three points are three points. What happened here is what typically happens the other way around. Steve Bruce was naive to leave one man at the back as Sunderland chased three points, and our substitutes pounced. Wigan has now leapfrogged Blackburn in the table, and despite the terrifying fixture list ahead there is cause for optimism. Five goals in two matches, a new tactical system that seems to be working, and a squad in which every player is replaceable. Arsenal play Manchester City in the Carling Cup tonight, and with Wenger talking up the need to rest Van Persie and Walcott, opportunity knocks.

A Neutral Would Say

Wigan were a bit lucky to emerge with three points, but Sunderland were sloppy.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 7.5 —  Made a mistake on the goal but kept Latics in the game with some excellent saves.

Steve Gohouri: 6 — Doesn’t inspire confidence, but wasn’t at fault for the goal and otherwise kept Sunderland out.

Gary Caldwell: 6.5 — The best of the three central defenders, he made some important clearances. We may see his best football with this new system.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Out of position in the first half when Phil Bardsley skied what should have been Sunderland’s second goal. But kept them out thereafter.

Ronnie Stam: 6.5 — Didn’t get forward enough, but was involved in Latics’ best attacking forays when he did.

David Jones: 5.5 — A bit quiet in this one.

Mo Diame: 6 — Also quiet. Shouldn’t be taking free-kicks.

James McCarthy: 6 — Lots of tackling and simple passing, won the battle with Cattermole. But gave the ball away once or twice a bit dangerously.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Will thrive in this system when Latics dominate possession, but doesn’t have the pace to be effective when counter-attacking. Surprising that he wasn’t replaced by Crusat.

Victor Moses: 7 — Won the penalty, and caused problems with his dribbling as always. Probably earned Sunderland a collective 4 yellow cards.

Conor Sammon: 6 — Worked hard and made one barn-storming run from midfield, but lacks the dribbling and culture of Franco Di Santo. Still, his and Moses’ pace made the Sunderland defense work.

Subs:

James McArthur: 7 — Came on for Ronnie Stam, a defensive substitution when the match was crying out for a quicker option like Albert Crusat. But it was his sheer determination to win the loose ball from Wes Brown that led to the winner. Also kept his cool to square to Di Santo when he could have easily gone for glory and missed. Tempting to say that if it had been the other way around, Franco would have shot!

Franco Di Santo: 7 — His work-rate is very good, and he’s excellent with the ball at his feet. It was his harassing of Kieran Westwood that led to Wes Brown’s poor touch. Big questions about his finishing remain, but he got the winner this time. Pleased for him.

On probation: Latics quarter-season report card

Technically, we’re one and a half matches late for a quarter-season analysis. Like most Latics supporters, I tend to need a few days to recover from the latest loss. Fulham and Wolves took a bit longer than usual. But along came the international break, allowing me the space and time to cycle through all five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — and a new one, faith-based optimism. Warning: this final stage may set you up for another round of the previous. But what if it doesn’t?

I’ll stop short of predicting a turning point in our season this Saturday against Blackburn, as I’ve made that mistake before. But it certainly seems an appropriate time to look back at our disastrous start and assess the individuals involved in it. First, we’ve averaged each player’s match performance ratings this season (which are admittedly subjective and only based on those given by Los Three Amigos writers, but serve as an interesting starting point for discussion). There are some surprises in there, but all interesting and insightful. For instance, defying all emotion, the struggling Gary Caldwell scores the same as reliable Emmerson Boyce. But while Emmerson has been steady and Gary Caldwell poor of late, it was the latter that scored highest (8) points in matches against Swansea and Newcastle. We try to make sense of it all below:

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 7.1 — With Moses, our best regular performer. His score would have been higher but for the costly mistake against Norwich on day one, which cost the team 2 points, and probably cost Ali at least 0.2 in this assessment.

Emmerson Boyce: 6.2 — Our most consistent defender, the only one we seem to be able to rely on. He’s one of the few players who seems to be improving as the season goes along. Had a tough day at Villa but otherwise 6s and 7s.

Gary Caldwell: 6.2 — On the whole has looked slow and past it. But he had a couple cracking games, versus Swansea and Newcastle away, defending well and displaying the qualities you look for in a captain. A lot of fans have made him something of a scapegoat, but Roberto has asked a lot of him. So far, he’s had Lopez, Gohouri, Boyce, Alcaraz and Figueroa partner him — five players in 11 matches. The central defensive partnership is the most important on the field and has been completely disrupted. It is telling that his best performances came with Alcaraz/Boyce at Swansea, and then Alcaraz at Newcastle.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Missed the opening part of the season to injury and will miss the next three matches for spitting at an opponent. Started poorly against Bolton, looked good in a couple, then brought shame on himself and the club with the spitting incident at Molineaux. A shame, since he’s the club’s best centre back.

Maynor Figueroa: 6.2 — Was given a few generous ratings when filling in at centre back. Has looked low on confidence recently, his attacking is better than his defending and goals often start down his side. Recently admitted to an Honduran newspaper that he is not in a good moment of form.

Ronnie Stam: 6 — Largely limited to substitute appearances, has done reasonably well when he has come on, but isn’t the solution. Not good enough going forward to be a winger, not good enough at defending to be a right back.

Patrick Van Aanholt: 7 — Was excellent against Everton when Maynor Figueroa was pushed inside, but has since featured very little.

Adrian Lopez: 4.75 — Latics’ lowest rated performer largely thanks to a nightmare against Norwich on opening day. Looks uncomfortable whenever he plays.

Steve Gohouri: 5 — A bit of a nightmare season for him. Sent off trying to mark Gareth Bale, then gave away the crucial goal against Bolton on his return, and looked wobbly at centre half. He’ll need to improve if he remains there throughout Alcaraz’s suspension.

Ben Watson: 6.7 — Consistent. Latics problems have not been in the midfield passing department. Truly masterful against Newcastle — my favourite performance of anyone in a Wigan shirt this season — but otherwise in the 6 and 7s. The question still lingers: is he best-suited to that deep midfield role?  If he tackles like he did at St. James Park yes, if not, no.

Mo Diame: 6.7 — Started slowly but has grown into the season, scored a couple very well taken goals, and looks our best midfielder.

James McCarthy: 5.5 — We expect more. Was probably playing with niggles in the early part of the season, before getting more seriously injured and losing his place to Dave Jones. Lets hope the spell on the sidelines has allowed him to heal. His performances were a catalyst in the team’s turnaround last year, we’ll hope he can do the same this time around.

Dave Jones: 6.9 — Highest-rated midfielder, although he has played fewer matches than the others. He has injected energy and intelligence into the midfield, with four of his five performances 7s.

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Started the season well, with an excellent performance at Swansea. But eventually lost his place and hasn’t been seen since.

James McArthur: 5.9 — Hasn’t let the team down in his substitute appearances, but also hasn’t provided much that the other midfielders at the club didn’t already.

Victor Moses: 7.1 — If he’d scored a few goals by now we’d be raving about him. (We’d also not be bottom of the league). His dribbling, pace and strength are unplayable. But his final pass, cross or shot lets him down every time. Is too young and raw to be playing such a crucial role at the club, though he has been extremely unlucky, hitting the post about 4-5 times.

Albert Crusat: 6.4 — Has looked lively in his five appearances, good pace and touch, but needs someone to get on the end of his crosses. Doesn’t seem direct enough to score himself.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 — His rating is based on a cameo at Villa Park, during which he immediately changed the way the team attacked. Other appearances have been so brief they went unrated. Would like to see more of him.

Hugo Rodallega: 5.9 — Has gotten worse and worse. Desperately needs a goal, but chances won’t come easier than the one he missed at Wolves last week. Are contract talks affecting his form? Frustrating to watch at the moment.

Franco Di Santo: 6.8 — Has played well this season as the lone frontman, but all three goals have come from deflections, and he never seems to be in the right place at the right time. Would probably gel very well with Hugo in a 4-4-2, but we know that’s probably not going to happen.

Conor Sammon: 6 —  10 minutes here and 10 minutes there, hard to judge him. But he certainly deserves his chance. His pace, energy and heart lift the stadium when he comes on.

Conclusions

The exercise has confirmed the obvious. Our defense has been unsettled and inconsistent. The club’s goalscorer is having a bad season. And the man we were banking on to match Charles N’Zogbia’s contribution has played well, but not produced the numbers the Frenchman did. Last season, Hugo and Charlie shared the burden of scoring our goals. But neither Hugo nor Victor Moses has scored this season. Sure, the defense has not played well — but by far the bigger concern is at the other end of the pitch.

Goals conceded, per match, this season: 1.8

Goals conceded, per match, last season: 1.6

Goals scored, per match, this season: 0.63

Goals scored, per match, last season: 1.05