WIGAN ATHLETIC 0 MANCHESTER CITY 1 – A VALIANT DISPLAY FROM LATICS

A valiant display by Wigan Athletic, but in the end not enough to share the points. It was heartening to see the amount of fight and conviction shown by the Latics against a team way beyond their league in resources and sheer footballing talent. This was certainly no capitulation: no player could be faulted for effort from my viewpoint.

Latics switched their tactical lineup to the old 4-2-1-3 system, with Albert Crusat coming in on the left wing and James McArthur brought in to play the holding midfield role with James McCarthy. Mohamed Diame was absent on Senegal duty and David Jones out injured. Manchester City played Dzeko and Aguero up front and they were to give the Latics central defenders, Caldwell and Alcaraz, a very testing afternoon.

The first 20 minutes or so were really quite open with Wigan attacking with some verve and City promising, but not quite delivering. There was a warning sign after 10 minutes when a cross from Clichy found Dzeko unmarked, but luckily for Wigan he headed wide. It was therefore no surprise when he scored an opportunist header in the 22nd minute from Silva’s free kick. Neither Caldwell nor Alcaraz were close enough to challenge him in his leap. It was a pity to lose a goal like that because Latics had played some good football and had some half chances. Al Habsi made a great save from the dangerous Aguero as the first half was coming to an end.

The first part of the second half saw increasing City pressure, only the excellence of Al Habsi keeping them out. His double saves from Aguero, then from Silva, were absolutely outstanding. Not long after that Aguero skated through the Wigan defence, but somehow Dzeko got in his way and Wigan were let off the hook. Despite this pressure Wigan had still not thrown in the towel and seemed to grow in confidence. Watson and Di Santo were brought on to replace the tiring McArthur and Crusat and Wigan began to attack with some gusto. Their best effort came when a fine pass by Rodallega put McCarthy through, only for his cross shot to be blocked by Hart’s foot.

In the 88th minute Maynor Figueroa deliberately handled the ball when Aguero would have been clean through. He was fortunate to escape with a yellow card, although much has been made in the press since of Mancini’s cynical waving of the imaginary red card at the refereeing team. Mancini should have no complaints about the refereeing: practically every time City went down they got a foul whereas they were not afraid to stifle any attacking intent from Latics with tactical/professional fouling. City average over 12 fouls per game this season, significantly higher than those other clubs in the top six. The match stats read 17 fouls committed by Wigan and 15 by City, but those figures could have been easily reversed given the number of calls he made for 50-50 challenges, almost all of which went against Latics. Both teams finished with 3 yellow cards.

The Good

Martinez showed tactical flexibility in reverting to the old system and the lineup was well balanced. He played with three front players plus Jordi Gomez in the hole behind the centre forward. A bold move against such formidable opposition. Latics played some good football at times and, with luck, could have snatched a result in the last 20 minutes. There was certainly no capitulation and they were taking the game to City in that last quarter of the match. A spirited performance.

The Bad

The defence looked leaky throughout, despite really gritty efforts from the back four to hold back the floodgates. Having said that Dzeko and Aguero are two of the best strikers in the league and are going to cause problems for any defence. However, failing to challenge Dzeko in the air led to one goal and it was lucky it was not two in the first half.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 9 – Another superb display. Kept Latics in the game with outstanding saves.

Ronnie Stam: 5 – Has been outstanding in recent games as a wing back, but in this game he had to revert to full back, where he struggles.

Antolin Alcaraz: 4 – The poorest game I have seen him play for Latics. We rely on him to win the ball in the air and he did not do it enough in this match.

Gary Caldwell: 4 – At times looked out of his depth. Tends to really struggle against the quality strikers of the top teams.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 – Not one of his best days, but as always he hung in there and tried his hardest. Lucky not to be sent off.

James McCarthy: 8 – Worked tirelessly in shielding his defence from the City onslaught, showing good skills. Good to see him getting forward, unlucky with his shot on goal in the second half.

James McArthur: 6 – The perennial substitute was given a starting role in the Premier League for only the second time this year. Given his lack of match practice he did a pretty good job. Although he misplaced some passes he did a lot of solid defensive work and put some nice balls forward. Showed his technique with a good snap-shot in the first half.

Jordi Gomez: 7 – Worked hard to try to engineer Latics attacks. Put in some nice touches and covered a lot of ground.

Victor Moses: 5 – Was too greedy in this match, too many times opting to dribble when teammates were in better positions awaiting a pass.

Hugo Rodallega: 7 – Worked tirelessly as the lone centre forward. Gradually regaining his form.

Albert Crusat: 6 – Hardly got the ball. Looked good when he had it. Showing improvement in the defensive side of his game.

Substitutes

Ben Watson: – Surprising to see McArthur preferred to him in the starting line-up. Did a useful job after coming on in the 68th minute.

Franco Di Santo – Tried hard but to no end result after coming on in the 68th minute.

Callum McNamaman – Only came on in the last 10 minutes and had little chance to shine.

Wigan Athletic 0 Fulham 2: Robbed again, but keeping the faith

Quite how Fulham beat us on Saturday is beyond me. Nine corners for Wigan, none for Fulham. Nineteen goal attempts Latics, Cottagers six. We have yet again been punished for the failure to convert our chances. But how many more games will go by in which the law of averages does not apply? How many times more can we possibly hit the post without it bouncing in, taking a slight deflection, or falling to one of our strikers to tap in. How many more corners until we get a lucky bounce? How many more bone-crunching tackles from the opposition before the referee sends one of them off?

We just can’t buy a goal. Victor Moses has to go down in history as one the most unfortunate attackers to set foot in the league. Sure, he is a raw young talent, an erratic finisher who would benefit from a cooler head. But he alone has hit the post 4-5 times already. Time and time again, he gets past his marker with such power and pace, but is denied against all odds by a lunging defender, an inspired keeper, or the woodwork. He was scoring for fun in pre-season. The Gods of the Premier League just aren’t smiling on him. Surely his reward will come soon?

Then there’s Roberto. I thought he made the right decision in sticking with the XI who performed so admirably against Newcastle. He was forced to substitute his most talented midfielder in the first five minutes after some cynical and targeted tackling, particularly that of Steve Sidwell, which typically went unpunished. He eventually brought Di Santo on for Crusat, who was probably tiring. But with one substitute left, still trailing by a goal, the Stam-for-Boyce substitution is infuriating. It’s not that Stam is a bad player, but he had Shaun Maloney and Conor Sammon on the bench. If you don’t throw them on in that situation, when do you?

That said, I don’t blame Roberto’s tactics for this loss, or the one at Newcastle, or so many others. If either of the shots that hit the post had gone in, we would have probably gone on to win. We were after all, the better side.

I suppose it is better to go on an 8-match losing streak in the beginning of the season than towards the end. But if it doesn’t stop in these next couple fixtures, we will have a serious mountain to climb. December and January look to be cruel months on the fixture list. If we go into them in the bottom three, I can’t see us getting out. November is a big, big month.

I’m keeping the faith. Confidence breeds luck, and we have neither at the moment. But if we get a bit of it, everything else is in place for a decent run of results against Wolves, Blackburn and Sunderland. Seven points from those three would propel us into mid-table. And the bottom half of the table is weak. Bolton and Blackburn have continued their mediocrity. Wolves look frail, Swansea and Norwich are doing okay but will find the second half of the season challenging. Sunderland probably have too much quality to get stuck down there, but do look dodgy. Lets go win at Wolves.

A Neutral Would Say

Wigan dominated but got hit on the break. Twice.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 6 —  Might have done better with the second goal. Everyone, including him, assumed Dembele would pass wide to Dempsey rather than shoot.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Caught out of position for the first goal by a very good Danny Murphy pass. Couldn’t catch Dembele. Showed some good interplay with Victor Moses down right flank.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Latics didn’t need to do much defending, but still conceded two goals, so it’s hard to give him anything more than a six. Will miss the next match due to accumulation of yellow cards.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Outrun by Dempsey for the first goal. Otherwise solid.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Tricky to grade him. Had his best attacking game in a long time, with some mazy runs and a tremendous left-footed shot that struck the post. But should have cleared in the build-up to the second goal instead of trying to pass his way out of trouble.

Ben Watson: 7 — Decent match for Wigan’s quarterback. So unlucky with an excellent volleyed effort in the first half, tipped over the bar by Schwarzer. Latics controlled possession, which was largely down to his distribution.

Mo Diame: N/A — What a shame. Only on the pitch for the opening minutes after two bad tackles ended his afternoon. Sidwell should have been cautioned. Lets hope it’s a speedy recovery as he is the only Wigan player to have scored a non-deflected goal, or a penalty, this season.

David Jones: 7 — Decent passing from midfield, another good shift. Lots of room for improvement on set pieces though.

Albert Crusat: 7 — Really lively and positive, delivered a range of crosses before making way for Di Santo.

Victor Moses: 8 — Outstanding performance full of invention and running. Saw a gorgeous volley crash off the crossbar in the second half. Was involved in all Wigan’s attacking play.

Hugo Rodallega: 6 — No real chances for Hugo in this one.

Subs:

James McArthur: 6 — Came on for Diame and worked hard, with some neat passing, but did not offer the penetration Diame is capable of.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Came on in centre-forward role but did not make a big impact.

Ronnie Stam: 6 — Joined the attack as instructed, but his crosses were generally cleared without complication.

Wigan Athletic – Fulham Preview: Moment of truth for Roberto’s men


Rarely does a game of such importance rear its head this early in a season. Wigan Athletic have now lost seven games in a row. The last time results were that bad, Dave Whelan moved swiftly to relieve Chris Hutchings of his managerial duties. Times have changed, and while there is no chance Roberto will suffer a similar fate, he must be feeling the pressure. This match is as crucial as they come, an absolute cup final.

Thankfully, it’s against a struggling Fulham side who are notoriously poor away from home. They’re in rotten form, sitting only two places above Latics in the league table with only two points more to their name. They too, have only won a single match so far, also against QPR, who have ironically left us both behind and sit comfortably in the dizzying heights of 10th place. While Roberto finally has a full squad to choose from, Martin Jol has a couple injury concerns in defense, with Aaron Hughes missing out and Philippe Senderos doubtful. Simon Davies is also still out with a knee injury.

All this said, Fulham are one of those teams we seem to find tricky. Theoretically, they should be one of those mid-table teams that we might lose to away but expect to beat at home. But our last five meetings at the DW/JJB have ended in draws, and more often than not, Clint Dempsey scores.

In addition to Clint, Latics will have to keep an eye on Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson, Moussa Dembele, and big-money Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz, who is starting to click after a slow start, scoring a stunning lobbed strike against Everton last week. The Cottagers always hard to break down and play at a high tempo, though Martin Jol’s approach is more continental than both Roy Hodgson’s and Mark Hughes’ were.

Meanwhile, the Wigan camp has been strangely energized by last week’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle. It will be interesting to see if Martinez sticks to the same XI who performed so well, particularly in the first half, or re-introduces Franco Di Santo and James McCarthy to the lineup. Albert Crusat and Dave Jones both performed well at St. James’ and would deserve a repeat start. Di Santo has done nothing wrong, but there is little doubt Rodallega is more likely to score if deployed in the centre-forward role. And James McCarthy has not been himself, but would add a bucket of energy as a second half substitute.

The fixture list over the festive period does not look kind. We have yet to face Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool, which means we must play them twice, and Man City and Spurs each another time. So results must come soon. Seven points from Fulham, Wolves, and Blackburn should put things back on track, but three of them must come tomorrow.

Good luck lads, let this be the turning point we’ve been waiting for.

Heart says: 2-1, Rodallega and Moses to get off the mark for Latics, and who else but Clint Dempsey for the visitors.

Mind says: 1-0, Rodallega.

Newcastle 1 Wigan Athletic 0: Unlucky Latics beaten again

Never has a league loss given supporters so much cause for optimism. Perhaps it’s a knee-jerk reaction, having spent last week in the gutter following the depressing home loss to Bolton, but I’m tempted to say the first 45 minutes at St. James’ Park were the best we’ve seen of Wigan since Roberto Martinez took the job. Only the goals were missing. Ultimately, we tired, Newcastle improved, and their sustained pressure culminated in a sublime Yohan Cabaye strike that settled matters.

But those 45 minutes set a new benchmark. Ali Al-Habsi hardly touched the ball until the final minutes of the first half. The defense was alert, strong, and neat in distribution. The midfield was physical, energetic and inventive. And the attack was pacey, if hesitant when it mattered the most. Anyone out of the loop would have assumed Latics were the in-form, unbeaten side, not Newcastle. If we start the Fulham and Wolves fixtures in the same way, they should be over by halftime.

Unfortunately, the goals never came. The match commentator shared a damning statistic midway through the first half. Hugo Rodallega has only scored twice in his last 19 Premier League matches. This time, he had two chances. The first, a quick-thinking through-ball from David Jones. The second, an incisive ball from Ben Watson deep from midfield. Both times, the Colombian snatched his shot toward the near post, failing to test Tim Krul. But the best chance of the match had already fallen to Victor Moses, who volleyed from inside the box after Hugo had guided the ball into his path, only for Krul to pull off a magnificent reflex save. Towards the end of the encounter, Mo Diame was inches from poking home a Victor Moses cross, and headed agonizingly wide.

Goals will continue to be a concern, but even at our best, we don’t expect to score many. Which is why the defensive effort in this match was so encouraging. Not only were the first-choice back four restored to the lineup for the first time this season, so too was the spirit of last year’s relegation battle. Antolin Alcaraz was at his best, powerful, intelligent and composed, without risking the ball with unnecessary dribbling. Gary Caldwell was all heart, flinging himself in front of shots from the opposition. Emmerson Boyce was quiet but effective enough, although he did get beat by Ben Arfa in the second half, while Figueroa had a tough afternoon with Gabriel Obertan’s electric pace. In midfield, Ben Watson, Mo Diame and David Jones battled valiantly and will surely be the starting three against Fulham after that performance.

Further ahead, Albert Crusat and Victor Moses provided pace down both flanks that has been badly lacking, although both faded in the second half. Crusat looks a useful little player with speed and a nice touch, though his finishing on this showing was ineffective. It was his first start in a Wigan shirt, and will need time to get used to his teammates before judgement is passed. Victor Moses faded in and out of the match, was unlucky not to leave with a goal and an assist to his name. Rodallega worked hard, did everything right except finish his opportunities. With the departure of Charles N’Zogbia, he has become the club’s marquee player. He needs to rediscover the goalscoring touch that earned him said status.

A Neutral Would Say

Wigan were unfortunate not to get anything out of this one. Poor finishing let them down.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 7.5 —  Might as well have been drinking mojitos in the first half, but much more active in the second, excellent as usual.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Good first half, tormented a bit in the second by Hatem Ben Arfa, who dangerously slipped past him on more than one occasion.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — A captain’s performance, he was commanding and all-action. Put his body on the line, making several crucial blocks in the second half when the pressure was on.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Strong, classy, looked back to his best. Clearly out to make amends for his mistakes against Bolton.

Maynor Figueroa: 5.5 — Struggled with Gabriel Obertan in the second half, unable to get forward.

Ben Watson: 9 — Excellent. Truly got stuck in, and played some exceptional passing football. His best performance for the club.

Mo Diame: 8 — Played his part in a very tough battle with Newcastle midfielder Tiote. Worked his socks off, and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet late in the game. Probably should have done better with the headed chance, but it’s a good sign that he continues to get in goalscoring positions.

David Jones: 7.5 — Very good performance as the attacking tip of the midfield triangle. Has an eye for a through ball and his left foot provides balance.

Albert Crusat: 6.5 — Looked lively and positive in the first half, with some neat touches and lots of pace. His final pass let him down on several occasions, but looks really promising.

Victor Moses: 7 — What a shame his volley did not go in. He continues to be Latics most dangerous player, but cursed with bad luck. His late crosses should have resulted in goals as well.

Hugo Rodallega: 6 — Worked hard and his build-up play was good, but the team needs him to finish his chances.

Subs:

James McArthur: N/A — Odd choice to come on after the Newcastle goal as he lacks the pace to be much of an attacking threat.

Conor Sammon: N/A — Ran around like a bull in a china shop, his work rate is exceptional. Unfortunately, didn’t have the ball in dangerous areas.

Best transfer window yet? Crusat, Maloney, Van Aanholt strengthen Wigan

With another dramatic deadline day safely behind us, I daresay Wigan Athletic has enjoyed its most successful transfer window yet. While other clubs wheeled and dealed and were ultimately forced to re-shuffle their packs to cover for unexpected losses, Roberto got the two wingers he had been looking for all summer to replace N’Zogbia and Cleverley, plus a much-needed alternative at left-back, something the team has lacked for a couple years. The squad not only looks competitive, it looks large. There is cover for everyone in the squad, no one is indispensable. It’s another mark of how far the club has come under Martinez.

So, lets recap the summer’s activity. It is an unfortunate truth at a club of Wigan’s size that one must sell to stay afloat — at least until the club’s fan base has grown enough to fill the DW week in and week out, sell shirts around the world, and be competitive enough to bring in television and prize money from European tournaments.

Given this fact, and the probability that the player would have forced the transfer anyway, N’Zogbia’s sale was unavoidable. Nine million was underwhelming for a player of his ability and Premier League experience, but from a strictly business perspective, the club paid six for him, got two-and-a-half excellent seasons out of him, and made a three million profit. And they almost certainly replaced him with a player on half his wages.

Meanwhile, seven million has been spent to bring in four players permanently, plus a very promising season-long loan. Last year’s player of the season, Ali Al-Habsi, should prove to be worth every penny of the four million Latics paid for him earlier this summer. Despite his first-match blunder, he was absolutely outstanding last year and at 29, is just entering his best years as a keeper. He seems to really love the club and I could see him playing out the rest of his career at the DW.

Albert Crusat, also 29, arrives from Almeria, where he spent six “magnificent” seasons. An Almeria fan site says he was one of the most loved players at the club, and should be a success in the Premier League based on his style of play. We understand he is a skillful, fast left winger, small but with good strength.

Shaun Maloney, 28, arrived from Celtic, where he spent most of his career. He is a right-footed winger, also quite small but tricky and with a dazzling highlight reel of direct free-kicks. He has had some injury trouble but has been fit for a while. He was chosen as the Scottish Player of the Year in 2006 and has played for his country 20 times. Celtic fans sound sad to see him go, and Aston Villa fans, who had him for a season and a half, reckon we have done tidy business for a “talented little player.”

Dave Jones joined the club during pre-season after failing to agree a new contract at Wolves. The 26-year-old is a left-footed central midfielder, much loved by Wolves fans for his efforts at Molineaux. This goal gives you an idea about the type of player he is. He hasn’t featured yet, but seems destined to play in an advanced role in the midfield diamond. His eye for a through ball and shooting threat make him a more than useful replacement to the current starting midfielders.

Nouha Dicko came in on a free after financial difficulties forced Strasbourg to release some of their players. He looks to be one for the future, but has already been lighting up the reserves with his pace and dribbling from the wing.

Patrick Van Aanholt is a 21-year-old left back, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, where he moved from PSV Eindhoven in 2007. He has been out on loan spells at Coventry, Newcastle and Leicester City since joining the London club. Hard to get a game with Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov ahead of him in the pecking order, but he has represented his country at U-19 and U-21 levels and was even close to the senior squad on a few occasions. He should provide excellent cover for Maynor Figueroa at left back.

In Conclusion:

The deepest squad the Latics have ever had. Roberto already had a young, promising team and has added several players at the peak of their careers. Crusat and Maloney should not need a lengthy adjustment period (although they probably won’t go straight into the starting lineup either, given the strong performances by Rodallega and Moses on the wings last time out), and are proven players. There is now cover in every position. Kirkland for Al-Habsi. Stam for Boyce, Gohouri/Lopez for Alcaraz/Caldwell, Van Aanholt for Figueroa. Jones/McArthur/Thomas for Watson/Diame/Jordi/McCarthy. Sammon for Di Santo. Crusat/Maloney for Moses and Rodallega. And that’s not to mention young players knocking on the door like McManaman, Dicko and Redmond.

The starting lineup may not be any stronger, on paper, since N’Zogbia and Cleverley’s departures. But the depth is something we’ve never seen. And options. Looking forward to watching the new boys soon.