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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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.