A view from the dark side — don’t show opponents too much respect

It must be my upbringing in a staunch Wigan Athletic household- I still have a problem with the naming of the East Stand of the DW Stadium. The Boston Stand. My son could pretend that the name is derived from the city where he lives, but the reality is it is a rugby thing. I never had anything against Billy Boston – he was a fantastic rugby league player and a fine host in his pub in Standishgate – but it still rankles.

So here was I packed in like a sardine in the central section of the Boston Stand. Great view though. Wigan Athletic were losing 2-0 to Chelsea after 7 minutes. Both mistakes down to a new defender, in his first game for the club. Hats off to the crowd – nobody got on Ivan Ramis’ back and jeered him. There were comments about the referee, giving the penalty, since Mike Jones was the same arbiter who let Chelsea get two offside goals to beat Latics last year. To be honest, from where we were sat it was hard to see if Ramis deserved the penalty award given against him.

We were a bit numbed by those opening goals, so early in the game. In previous years our teams would have collapsed. Not this team though. They got back into the game playing controlled football, having more possession than their more illustrious and disproportionately more expensive opponents, giving as good as they got. However, as half time approached the dark side reared its ugly head. In this case the dark side was represented by two very friendly, warm Wiganers who complained that Latics weren’t really going at Chelsea. There was some truth in their argument. When Latics were attacking the midfield players were not getting into the box sufficiently. One or two forwards against six or seven defenders makes it unlikely that you will score. But then again Chelsea had players with lightning pace who could break away and kill the game completely if you totally committed yourself forward.

In the second half the Darksiders got more and more frustrated. I had one of two intellectually stimulating verbal exchanges with them, until it came to the point where the more eloquent of the two made a thought- provoking comment: “We show these teams too much respect”. Given the counter-attacking threat of the opponents I thought Latics were using the right approach and I told him that. But, on reflection, I have to agree with him that in some matches in the past Martinez’s teams have been over cautious and let the other team take the initiative. Let’s not talk up the other team and say how capable they are. There is a lot of psychology in Premier League football and we need to get this right. We need to shed the little, humble Wigan tag and get a bit of swagger. However, at the same time let’s have the tactical nous not to shoot ourselves in the foot and not commit ten men forward against a team likely to destroy us if we do.

All football clubs live with darkside supporters – those who don’t like the manager and victimize certain players. However, I thought the Latics’ fans were generally very supportive on Sunday. So many fans have now become appreciative of the good football that Roberto Martinez demands of his team. At one stage the more plain spoken, if less eloquent, of the two Darksiders said that he wanted Martinez gone. I replied that it was not the opinion of the majority of Wigan Athletic supporters. He then suggested I was a rugby man. That ultimate insult made my blood boil, but I managed to keep my head and reply politely that I was not.

Last season we saw something very special – Wigan Athletic beating the elite, not through luck but on merit. Which previous manager prior to Martinez could have had a team playing such great football with such aplomb?

Let’s hang in there with Bob and Dave. Latics are way ahead of where they were. Their plan to take the club forward is unraveling, but it will take time and patience. Apart from the opening minutes it was a fine performance against Chelsea. Let’s look forward to a good performance at Southampton. Believe and keep the faith!

Chelsea reaction: The good, the bad and the player ratings

Each week, after the dust has settled, we’ll be taking a look back on the latest Wigan Athletic result. This week, we examine the lessons from the 2-0 home loss to Chelsea. If you missed our match report, please check it out here.

The Good:

1. Momentum: Despite the wooden start, Latics played in very much the same flowing style and tactical shape as they ended last season. Even the most optimistic of us had felt there was a possibility the team would lose their momentum, or that Roberto might revert to his previously preferred 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 formation. Rustiness and fitness issues aside, the XI on the pitch looked no weaker than last season — while the seven on the bench looked stronger.

2. Maynor Figueroa, the wingback: While the signing of Ivan Ramis provides necessary cover and competition for the established back three, this match confirms it does the same at left wingback. Jean Beausejour remains untouchable when fit, a specialist in his position whose form swung Latics fortunes last season. But Maynor proved on Sunday that he is an excellent option, far more suited that the willing, but ill-suited Dave Jones, who filled the position before Beausejour’s arrival in January. His through ball for Franco Di Santo in the first half was particularly impressive — great vision.

3. Depth: Players like Ryo Miyaichi, Ronnie Stam and Callum McManaman weren’t even on the bench. Nouha Dicko was allowed to leave for a season-long loan at Blackpool. How far we’ve come in the last few years.

4. Statistics: While  we concede that Chelsea were 2-0 up for almost 90% of the match, Wigan were as good or better than them for most of the game. Latics enjoyed 7 corners to Chelsea’s 1, 15 goal attempts to Chelsea’s 6, and 52% possession of the ball.

The Bad:

1. Baptism of fire for Ivan: Having been turned a little too easily by Eden Hazard in midfield in the build-up to the first goal, the defender then lunged at the French attacker in the box, giving away a penalty minutes later. Rough start, but he improved as the match went on.

2. Injuries: Both Shaun Maloney and James McArthur had to be withdrawn with niggles. It has since been reported that they should be fit to play Southampton this weekend, but the McArthur back issue in particular has the potential to continue flaring up if he doesn’t get adequate rest and treatment.

3. Opportunity lost: With a better start, Latics might have gotten something out of this game. Chelsea were good on the break, but wouldn’t have been playing on the break quite as much if they hadn’t taken that early lead.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Didn’t have much to do other than retrieve the ball from the back of his net.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — A little rusty in the first half but got better as the game went on, and even contributed the attacking effort in the second.

Gary Caldwell: 7 — Good display from the captain, steady in defense and strong in distribution.

Ivan Ramis: 5 — The early mistakes ultimately cost Latics the points, but there was much to like about his reaction to them. Should prove a good addition once settled.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Looked instantly comfortable in the left-wingback role.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Strong and steady when defending, delivered some quality crosses in the first half.

James McArthur: 6 — Did okay despite a bit of rust, before being withdrawn due to a recurrence of his back injury.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Very strong in midfield, rarely gave the ball away, great range of passing. We only wish he would shoot more often.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 — Excellent in the first half, creative, energetic and positive.

Victor Moses: 7 — Gave the Chelsea fullbacks a torrid time when he ran at them. A few poor crosses but a few excellent ones as well, plus a snapshot from an impossible angle that troubled Peter Cech in the first half. Hope he stays.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Got into some good positions but headed narrowly over early on and took a heavy touch after being sent through by Figueroa late in the first half.

Subs:

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Latics did lose some of their positivity when Maloney went off, but Jordi was fairly involved, drew fouls for the team, and might have scored on several occasions.

Arouna Koné: 7 — His first few touches were nervy, but he kept the ball and his movement was hugely promising. He got on the end of two or three crosses and almost scored from each of them.

Ben Watson: 6 — A little rusty as many of his teammates, didn’t contribute an immense amount but didn’t let anyone down either.

Wigan Athletic 0 Chelsea 2: Fatal five minutes mask a promising display

There was a time, not long ago, when conceding two goals in the first few minutes against a top six side almost guaranteed a hammering. Indeed, Chelsea have inflicted two such high-scoring morale wreckers in the last three years. Say what you will about the first five minutes in yesterday’s season opener, this team is lights years ahead of where it was, even a single year ago.

If you’d picked up the match seven minutes in (and ignored the scoreboard), you would have witnessed a pleasing first-half display of cultured possession football. Crosses were flying in from both sides of the pitch, Victor Moses was enjoying himself, the midfield looked comfortable, and but for a heavy first touch, Di Santo might have scored.

Unfortunately, as Roberto did in his post-match interviews, we must acknowledge those hapless opening exchanges. The match had barely gotten underway when Eden Hazard skilfully — but all too easily — turned Ivan Ramis near the midfield circle and found Branislav Ivanovic with a perfect through ball down the right wing. Chased by Figueroa, who was playing at left wing-back rather than his customary left centre-back position due to an injury to Jean Beausejour, the Chelsea fullback finished coolly past Al-Habsi to make it 1-0. Moments later, Chelsea’s marquee summer signing was causing panic once again, tempting Ramis into a lunge in the penalty box. Referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot and Frank Lampard rarely misses.

It was a tough start for the Spanish centre-back, who is not only adapting to a new country and culture, but a new tactical system with three centre-backs, and faster pace of play. All only a week or so after joining the club, and against the defending European Champions. Midfielders and strikers often get the benefit of being given 15-20 minutes at the end of the match to bed in, as new Ivorian striker Arouna Koné did later on. For Ramis, it was straight into the fire. But he improved as the game went on, and indeed cleared off the line brilliantly to deny Fernando Torres a second-half goal. Despite the mistakes — which were not characteristic of his game in Spain — he showed enough to suggest that once adapted, he will be a good addition.

Jean Beausejour missed his first match through injury since signing for the club in January. In his place, Maynor Figueroa performed well enough to suggest we now have cover, not only for the three centre-back positions, but for the wing-backs on both sides as well. Emmerson Boyce, down the right, was great and just seems to get better with age.

Much of Wigan’s momentum was lost when Shaun Maloney had to be withdrawn with a groin injury early in the second half. Roberto has since admitted both Maloney and MacArthur were taken off with little niggles as a precaution rather than due to serious injuries. Jordi Gomez, Maloney’s replacement, drew fouls and got himself in good positions, but ultimately failed with his finishing. Ben Watson, on for MacArthur, looked a little rusty but is a fine option from the bench. Neither of them filled the void left by Maloney, who along with Moses, has become our creative spark.

Things started to turn Chelsea’s way and a third goal looked likely. But some exciting end-to-end stuff produced Ramis’ aforementioned goal-line clearance and a surging Victor Moses run and cross down the other end. By then Arouna Koné had come on for his Wigan debut, and showed great promise with a trio of decent half-chances. He immediately appeared to have what Di Santo lacks — the movement and instincts necessary to know where to be when a cross comes into the box. Di Santo has just about everything else, but seldom gets on the end of crosses to head, poke, prod, or hammer home.

Wigan finished the match in the ascendancy and were quite unlucky not to emerge goalless. The usual questions will emerge about profligacy in front of goal, but Chelsea won the Champions League on the back of excellent defending (and a healthy slice of luck). They are not easy to break down.

All things considered, this was an encouraging performance. News outlets have of course focused on Hazard and Chelsea’s exciting new strikeforce, but Latics enjoyed more possession, created 15 goal attempts to Chelsea’s six, seven corners to the visitors’ one. The boys played in much the same way they ended last season — minus the defensive intensity in those first few minutes — and the news signings got a game under their belts.

Southampton promises to be a tricky fixture after their near-miss at the Etihad on Sunday. But if we play the way we did for 80 minutes, we’ll be in with a good chance to notch our first points of the season. Stay tuned for The Good, The Bad and Player Ratings, coming soon.

Chelsea 2 Wigan Athletic 1: False result as Latics once again fall victim to unfair refereeing decisions

Twice this season, a match official has made a footballing decision so horribly incorrect that they were suspended from duty in the ensuing fixture. The first was Andre Marriner, the referee who allowed Morten Gamst Pedersen to simply run the ball in from the corner flag, producing a goal that denied Wigan Athletic a crucial three points against Blackburn Rovers. The second was linesman Dave Bryan, who on Saturday gifted Chelsea three points by allowing two offside goals to stand. Again, the victim was Wigan Athletic, who would have escaped the relegation zone with one point from this match, let alone the three they deserved.

Back in December, Wigan Athletic suffered from another blatantly incorrect decision when Conor Sammon was sent off against Manchester United for very minimal contact with Michael Carrick. When the club appealed the suspension, the FA acknowledged its mistake and rescinded the suspension, something they do not make a habit of doing. A token gesture, I suppose, but once again, Wigan emerged with no points.

Two of these incidents were so bad the Premier League decided to suspend the officials. It’s no surprise they both happened to Wigan. We are, after all, the only team in the history of hte league to have to face 1) the newly promoted teams in back-to-back fixtures on the first three gameweeks, when they are typically at their strongest 2) the traditional top four in a five match stretch.

If these refereeing “blunders” had happened — not that they would — to a wealthier, more influential team, there would surely be talk of re-playing the matches. While there was plenty of media coverage about the Pedersen incident and Chelsea’s victory on the weekend, nothing has been done about either situation to recompense Wigan the lost points they so desperately need.

While any conspiracy about the Premier League wanting rid of little Wigan and its relatively small crowds and TV market is hard to prove, the evidence available certainly points in that direction.

But lets face it — there’s probably more to it than that. First of all, there’s human error. Bigger clubs have bigger stadiums, officials are human and react to noise, abuse and threats. It’s also certainly not outside the realm of possibility that Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich — so keen on winning the Champions League — played some part in linesman Bryan’s decision-making on Saturday as his team desperately needed those three points to remain in the race for fourth place. After all, Chelsea also got a very soft penalty against Fulham last night, although it wasn’t enough to get them three points.

The tragedy is that Wigan is playing the best football it has ever played, and at the highest level. The team was outstanding against Chelsea from back to front, full of culture and quality, solidity and belief. The performance, as have many of the last 7-8, merited three points or at the very least a valuable away point against a Champions League semi-finalist.

Next up, Manchester United. If any good comes of Saturday’s disgrace, it’ll be a fair match on Wednesday. We may have conceded three illegal goals in our last two visits to Stamford Bridge, but it’s even worse against United. In addition to Conor Sammon’s bizarre sending off this season, Wayne Rooney was allowed to continue on the pitch after elbowing James McCarthy in the face last year, and Antolin Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega were harshly sent off in the fixture before that.

It will be interesting to see how Roberto Martinez — by some distance the most eloquent and well-mannered professional in the division — is treated in the wake of his post-match comments. The Spaniard rightly vented his frustration after the match but such an approach has backfired in the past, to Paul Jewell in particular in that second season up. Given the fact that Manchester United have recently benefited from a blatantly incorrect penalty and red card decision, and Wigan have been robbed of points for two of them, one would hope whoever is given the task on Wednesday will be instructed to give — if anyone — Wigan Athletic the rub of the green.

At the end of the day, the fact is if we had the points we deserved from the Blackburn game or the Chelsea game, in which the FA deemed the official’s decisions so bad as to be punishable, we’d be closer to Aston Villa than to Bolton in the league table.

Match Report:

By now, you know what happened. But I’ll refer you to This Northern Soul’s report for a refresher.

The Good:

Everything but the result. It has been so enjoyable to watch the Latics recently and a source of real pride. The team performance was outstanding. Defensive solidity with outstanding goalkeeping. Good midfield passing which only improved when Ben Watson and Mo Diame came on, also highlighting a depth our squads have never had. These players are giving it their all, and playing with some style. Our direct rivals all lost — Bolton twice — so we didn’t lose any further ground in the table. No injuries or suspensions, minus Hugo Rodallega’s ongoing complaint.

The Bad:

The players must be gutted. Lets hope Roberto can use the sense of injustice from this most recent match as a motivator for the even bigger Manchester United fixture.  Only six games left, two of them against top teams.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 9 — Made four or five absolutely sensational saves in this match.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 — Very good defensive performance despite giving away a couple dangerous free-kicks.

Gary Caldwell: 8.5 — Once again a titan at the back. Almost won it for the Latics again in the last minute only to find himself sprinting the length of the pitch to try and prevent the goal at the other end. Which shouldn’t have stood anyway.

Antolin Alcaraz: 9 — His best performance of the season, he frustrated Drogba and stood strong in one-on-one defending. His distribution out of the back has also been very strong of late.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Unable to get forward but had his hands full and defended solidly.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Showed some nice touches but was also limited in his forays forward, save one or two nice deliveries.

James McArthur: 8 — Put in the shift we have come to expect of him. Also played a delicious defense-splitting pass in the first half.

James McCarthy: 8 — Burst dangerously from midfield in the first half, something we’d love to see more of. His physical power and energy was very important.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 — Involved in most of Latics best attacking play, he has continued to breathe fresh air and imagination into our attacking work.

Victor Moses: 9 — Chelsea had to foul him every time he got the ball. His running and dribbling was outstanding, though he was frequently isolated.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Played his target man role well and had one golden chance to equalise after Chelsea’s first goal. What a shame it didn’t go in.

Subs:

Ben Watson: 8 — Came on as a part of a tactical switch back to the 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 line-up and showed his quality, passing the ball well and helping Wigan regain possession of the ball.

Mo Diame: 8 — Injected energy, dribbling and pace into the midfield, and scored an excellent left-footed goal to level the score.

Conor Sammon: 6 — Ran and worked hard but doesn’t have the skill on the ball Di Santo has.

Better late than never: a look back at Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd results

Having found ourselves internet-less during the festive period, we look back on two of the best performances of the season, and another the standard treatment from an intimidated referee at Old Trafford. Overall, a pleasing festive period during which Roberto’s team has started to show its real potential.

Wigan Athletic 1 Chelsea 1

The home side were more than a match for Chelsea, who had strung several wins together before this fixture. Daniel Sturridge scored a beautifully taken goal early in the second half against the run of play, but Latics persistence paid off when Petr Cech fumbled Rodallega’s shot straight to Jordi Gomez for the equalizer.

The Good:

The entire performance, but special mention to the tackling in midfield, defensive solidity, and Jordi for being in the right place at the right time at the end of a very tiring match.

The Bad:

Shame it couldn’t have been three points.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 7; Antolin Alcaraz: 8.5; Gary Caldwell: 8; Maynor Figueroa: 8; Ronnie Stam: 7; Dave Jones: 7; James McCarthy: 8.8; Mo Diame: 7; Jordi Gomez: 7; Victor Moses: 8; Conor Sammon: 6

Wigan Athletic 0 Liverpool 0

After surviving an early period of intense pressure, Latics were unlucky not to take the lead. Ali Al-Habsi proved the savior with a penalty stop, but both teams might have gotten on the scoresheet in an exciting match.

The Good:

Jordi Gomez and Victor Moses looked absolute quality against a very good team. Sure, Liverpool played an attacking game, allowing them a bit more space on the break. But in their very different styles, they were outstanding. Maynor Figueroa put in an excellent defensive performance but also managed to get forward with some dangerous shooting. Ali Al-Habsi takes man of the match for his well earned clean sheet and penalty save.

The Bad:

Dave Jones is an excellent footballer, but not a left wing back. Time and time again, he was beaten for pace. Got better as the match went on, but surely Patrick Van Aanholt — so exciting when he made his first appearance against Everton back in autumn — will be considered for this position sooner than later.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 9; Antonlin Alcaraz: 7.5; Gary Caldwell: 7.5; Maynor Figueroa: 8.5; Ronnie Stam: 8; Dave Jones: 6; James McCarthy: 8; Mo Diame: 8; Jordi Gomez: 8; Victor Moses: 8; Conor Sammon: 7

Manchester United 5 Wigan Athletic 0

Park Ji-Sung gave United an early lead after Patrice Evra skipped through Latics defense in the opening minutes of the game. Wigan passed the ball well, however, and went close through a couple excellent Ronnie Stam crosses before Conor Sammon was inexplicably sent off for colliding with Michael Carrick. The FA would later rescind the suspension, but that damage in this game was done. Berbatov went on to score a hat-trick, Phil Dowd would award a penalty for a foul that occurred outside the box, and the game would finish 5-0.

The Good:

Ronnie Stam’s crossing when the game was still 11 vs. 11. He delivered three or four delicious crosses from the right wing that had Hugo Rodallega’s name all over them. Unfortunately, Hugo was not on the field and Conor Sammon was unable to make contact.

The Bad:

Unlike the previous two matches against Chelsea and Liverpool, Latics’ midfield pressure was absent, and they let United play. Once again the team was afraid of United, which is a shame, because both Chelsea and Liverpool had fielded stronger lineups against us. Conor Sammon should never have been sent off but would likely have been substituted anyway. He will always endear himself to the Latics faithful with his hard-working displays, but he appears to need an extra touch to get his shot away, and does not look comfortable attacking Stam’s crosses with his head. That said, it was the referee that killed this tie.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6; Antolin Alcaraz: 6; Gary Caldwell: 6; Maynor Figueroa: 7; Ronnie Stam: 7; Dave Jones: 6; James McCarthy: 6; Mo Diame: 6; Jordi Gomez: 6; Victor Moses: 7; Conor Sammon: 5 (Franco Di Santo: 5)