Momentum building: Wigan Athletic season preview

On first look, it’s hard to blame the people who doom Wigan Athletic to relegation each year. On paper, our late August squad looks weaker than the lads that kept us up in May. We’ve typically lost our top player (or three) to bigger clubs and replaced them with little known youngsters from the Scottish league or unfashionable, though generally astute, Spanish-speaking gambles in their late twenties.

But this season irks more than any of the previous. How short is the memory? To repeatedly read paid journalists make the point that Latics will suffer without Hugo Rodallega and Mo Diame is more than lazy. The finest run of form in Wigan Athletic history — ultimately resulting in survival and the scalps of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, in-form Newcastle and almost European Champions Chelsea but for two horrific mistakes by match officials — was achieved with the pair of them reduced to cameos from the substitutes bench. They scored three goals between them since Christmas and all were in matches that we had already lost.

This is not a slight on either player. Both immensely talented, they were a pleasure to watch and have at the JJB/DW. Hugo, a poacher, was frustrating on the left wing but certainly a success overall and crowd favourite, and suffered from injuries last season. Diame was outstanding in the first half of the term when no one else was, before losing his place to the thoroughly committed and deservedly appreciated James McArthur after the African Cup of Nations. But the point stands that they played no real role in Latics’ sensational final two months.

If anything, that unforgettable survival run emphasized the transition of Wigan Athletic as a Premier League club where individuals come to make their name, to a club of players proud to play for Wigan that operate as a team. Mauro Boselli, recently returned after a year and a half on loan in Italy and Argentina, made the interesting comment that contrary to two years ago when he arrived, there were no longer any divisions in the squad — it feels like a team of players that play for each other. We’ll be publishing an exclusive interview with him later this week.

What people are missing is that, behind the scenes, we’ve been making steady progress. Most people see Wigan as just surviving every year. But each of Roberto Martinez’s three years have brought progress. The squad is deeper and stronger, investment in youth has been made, and our crowds are growing as a new generation grows up supporting their local team in the Premier League.

Replacing people like Valencia, Palacios and N’Zogbia was a nightmare, though their sales may have been necessary to keep the books steady. Things are changing. We would all like to hold on to Moses, but he only really clicked last season when the rest of the team did. If he leaves, there will be an adaptation period as the team re-shapes itself without him, but this is no longer a “get it out wide to Rodallega, N’Zogbia or Moses and see what they can do” situation. Roberto’s highly successful wingback system is extremely flexible, and it is intriguing to think about how it might set up. New boy Aruna Kone is an astonishing buy at a reported 2.75 million pounds or good buy at 5 million depending which price you believe — a 28 striker at the peak of his career that just managed 15 goals in the Primera Liga last season for (another) unfashionable club like Levante. Mauro Boselli is back after a good season in Argentina, and hungry. Ryo Miyachi has been signed from Arsenal and didn’t look half bad at Bolton last season. Not to mention Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo, two of the undisputed stars of our survival success last year.

Wigan Athletic is quietly gaining momentum. I suspect it will be the midfield and defense that will have to spend more time adapting if Moses leaves — he is truly excellent at holding the ball up and drawing fouls to give the (even) harder-working core a breather.

The other gaping hole in the squad was defensive cover for the three centre-backs. Steve Gohouri has been released. He had a rough time last year, jittery and lacking sharpness. Adrian Lopez, to whom we wish the best of luck this season, has been dodgy at best. He seemed to struggle with the pace and physicality of the game. Roberto has faith in him, but has also brought in Ivan Ramis — another very good signing at the peak of his career. There is no questioning his ability as an uncompromising centre-back, the question is how he will take to his new surroundings after a career and life spent on a gorgeous island in the Mediterranean.

I’ll save the rest of the new signings talk for Jakarta Jack, whose article is coming soon.

Prediction for the season? Not quite the lofty heights of mid-table comfort that the brilliant and much-appreciated optimists out there are suggesting, but not relegation either. Somewhere in between. I would expect a wobbly start if Moses leaves. The new signings will take time to bed in like Maloney did last year and many before him. I personally have high hopes for Boselli, although the Kone signing radically decreases his chances of a regular run in the team. Perhaps Di Santo will drop deeper into the Moses role? Or is it Crusat’s year to shine in the free role? Talented young loan signing Ryo Miyaichi?

The fixture list is never kind. With Chelsea and Man United in two of the first four fixtures, plus a hungry Stoke without the Cup distractions of last season. If there is a time to play Chelsea it is now, with all their new signings and an uncertain new era under the lucky Roberto Di Matteo (lets face it, his approach to the CL was equivalent to Roy Hodgson’s for England in the Euros — he just had a better centre-forward.) The Southampton match is crucial.

We welcome all Latics supporters to the new season. Please join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe (scroll down, lower right) to this blog. Please leave comments — we look forward to hearing from you, and c’mon Wigan — keep the faith!

* To read Jakarta Jack’s even more optimistic take on the new season, click here.

 

Fulham vs. Wigan Athletic: In-form Latics visit bogey team Fulham

There are no two ways about it — Fulham are a pain in the neck. The last time we beat them was in 2006. They signed Clint Dempsey the following year, and he has feasted on us since. It’s not a case of outplaying or outclassing us, it’s just that no matter the manager from Hodgson to Hughes to Jol, their keeper always has a man-of-the-match performance, and their striker — usually the Texan — can’t miss.

Present circumstances promise for this to be quite an interesting iteration. Wigan are in dreamland, having produced their best every Premier League displays to earn wins over Liverpool, Stoke, Manchester United and Arsenal in their last five games. Fulham meanwhile, are about where you would expect them to be, playing well at home, dropping points on the road, but doing it with a pleasant continental style Martin Jol has brought to Craven Cottage. While classy Costa Rican striker Bryan Ruiz is out with a broken metatarsal and both Andrew Johnson and Pavel Pogrebnyak are doubtful with injuries, Clint Dempsey is enjoying his best ever season with 21 goals to his name and will likely start up front. Which could be trouble.

Hugo Rodallega and Shaun Maloney should be fit to make their comebacks, which should prove timely boosts given the exhausting fixture list Latics have just come through against the traditional top four and the most physical side in the league, Stoke City. Roberto said last year that one of the keys to the club’s survival run was their youth and endurance when the going got tough. The midfield engines of the Jimmy Macs and attacking outlets Victor Moses and Franco Di Santo have certainly provided evidence to that claim.

One would expect Roberto to name an unchanged lineup after the away day heroics at the Emirates. If he does, a bench involving people like Mo Diame, Shaun Maloney, Ronnie Stam, Ben Watson and Hugo Rodallega must surely go down as the strongest in the club’s history. Albert Crusat would be there too if he hadn’t suffered an injury in training before the Arsenal match.

But it’s a difficult one to call, this one. The amazing results against United and Arsenal have eased the pressure on this game, and although the players and manager are all saying the right things about maintaining the same level of intensity, it is hard to imagine that being possible against Fulham, away. But our Wigan heroes have done nothing if not earn the benefit of the doubt from us, their supporters. Long may this glorious form continue.

Arsenal – Wigan: Gooners preview the match for us

* in an effort to mix things up a bit, we’ve invited a couple Arsenal supporters to contribute a match preview from their point of view. For a traditional preview from Jakarta Jack of the Amigos, please click here.

Tony Marzelli

It’s been a crazy week for the Gunners; two big wins, both could have been by more but somehow made my breakfast come up. In my time as an Arsenal supporter I feel there has been a transformation in how I perceive not only the club but also football in general.  Even in the days of the untouchables season or in the run to the Champions League final, I have never hyper-focused on an end of a season in this way, match-to-match.  In the aftermath of the Gunners hammering of the mercenaries in baby blue, I stopped singing long enough to return my shirt to my torso and thought to myself, “Wait, who are we playing next?”  I got the same feeling after the lackluster pounding of Wolves. Maybe this is a new feeling because third has never meant so much, maybe I was younger, more fearless, or maybe we had the likes of certain Henrys, Bergkamps, Pires’, and Campbells’ to carry us through?  But who is up now?  Oh right, Wigan.

I have always been a fan of Wigan.  Or least, lets put it this way: I have always been a fan of the Roberto Martinez’s Wigan.  With all the Hughes’, Pardews’ and Rednapp’s to occupy the hate compartment in my brain, why take anything out on a man with so much swagger?  Look at this season alone.  The January Beasejour move and the resurgences of Maloney, Moses, Alcaraz.  It’s a fun team for the neutral.  However, neutral the Lactics are not this Monday.  You don’t have to be a seasoned Gunner to say this season has had its hills, valleys, and that crazy pit in return of the Jedi.  We are undoubtedly playing the best we have all season, and in my opinion the best in sometime.

If Wigan’s game plan is to do exactly as they did against Chelsea and United one could hardly argue.  Or should they?  Or January blips against Fulham and Swansea showed our vulnerability — which also showed against Wolves last week: a lack of attacking cohesion and killer instinct to finish the opposition off early.  Against United and Chelsea, the Latics brought the game to them.  They will probably need to adopt a more patient tactic against Arsenal.  Every associated with Arsenal is expecting a win on Monday. It will be important for Wigan to show Arsenal respect, while also frustrating them.

I would love to “dance with Koscielny” on Monday but because he couldn’t wait six hours to commit a late tackle, it will be the one and only Johan Djourou starting alongside the Verminator.  I think many Gunners would rather see videos of him learning how to not ball-watch than discussing who has the best music taste in the squad, and touring the locker room. But enough of that — the doc has told me to be less negative — and I promised. He is growing and has much to prove and could be a weak spot for the Gunners.  He lacks confidence and gets skittish on the ball, though his defending is improving.   Second, and perhaps more obvious, is the Brazilian-ness of our Brazilian left back.  Andre Santos can’t defend.  He doesn’t want to.  But he does bring a great attacking presence and threat.  The Lactics should look to play crosses deep to that left of the penalty area as Santos has had trouble finding his positioning in those situations. Kevin Doyle for Wolves showed this before a marvelous save by Szczesny on Wednesday.  Wigan will need to be patient and take their chances when presented because if they do try to play Arsenal straight up, and the game becomes open, RVP will slice into them faster than a Mitt Romney speech at Berkeley.

There’s no hiding it.  Robin Van Persie is the lifeblood of this club at the moment. It will take constant concentration of the Caldwell-Alcaraz-Figueroa axis to deal with the clever Dutchman.  He loses his mark so effortlessly and it only takes once.  I can praise RVP all day…maybe the rest of my life, but there is more to this club on Monday.  One notable contributor to the recent form is the resurgence of Tomas Rosicky.  Tommy was flawless against Spurs, a maniac against Milan, and an absolute handful for City.  He showed up Na$ri and tirelessly kept the Gunners high pressure on the City defense.  Rosicky unfortunately did not play against Wolves, and I see that as a much needed rest, a chance for Ramsey to get his confidence back in a central role, and the Welsh captain did everything needed to beat a poor Wolves side. Gunners will be hoping to see Rosicky in that advanced central midfield role Monday.  With likes of Gervihno to possibly return for a start on the left and Walcott to keep his place on the right, the Lactics will have their hands full.

The partnership of Song and Arteta has been a true stroke of genius by Arsene Wenger.  However, with Song’s recent run of assists and wandering higher up the pitch it’s obvious the baby-dreaded monster sometimes gets caught out. This was evident against QPR when there was no cover for (as Arseblog.com so rightly puts it) “Bambi on Ice” Thomas Vermaelen. Don’t get me wrong — his vision and precision for a defensive midfielder is sublime but his offensive play and awful backheels can land the squad in awkward positions.  Arteta has also been a rock the squad so badly needed this season.  Yes his hair is immaculate, but this can hardly be the account for his vision and rocket of a right boot.  He is a very consistent footballer and for the exception of the City and Villa strikes he remains the silent hero connecting the team one guapo pass at a time.  Song and Arteta are the backbone of the system and if Wigan are to break and if there is a gorgeous hair magnet attached to Al Habsi, Wigan could have a chance. Arsenal will be focused on moving the ball quickly and precisely, tiring the Lactics.

It would be silly for one to say that I wasn’t the slightest jealous Balotelli got to touch Song’s leg, however violent it may have been (maybe that’s all it was, just a friendly gesture), but even more inane is to say Wigan does not have a chance on Monday.  They will indeed be up for the challenge. Losses to Blackburn and QPR will lift the Lactics. The Gunners will need to keep the mindset they had against Milan and City.  Not be complacent, and do what they do best: attack, attack, attack until it is said and done. In the meantime, a weekend of FA Cup derbies to get us through.  There truly just isn’t enough beer.

* you can follow Tony on Twitter at whitethrash3

Mike Provenza

Wigan at home has been a positive fixture for Arsenal over the last few years.  This year’s meeting is more interesting than years past, however, because A) both teams are at their most confident and are playing their best football of the season; and B) unlike many clubs in the EPL at the moment, both have something vital to play for.  From an Arsenal perspective, there is reason to be confident.  As I mentioned, Arse are playing very well as of late.  While the continued excellence of RVP, the outstanding play of Szczesny, the resurrection of Tomas Rosicky’s ghost, and the solidity of the Song-Arteta midfield axis have all contributed to this run of form, I see the biggest difference coming in two areas.  First, goals are starting to come from people other than RVP.  As great as he’s been, it seemed like he was papering over the cracks for much of the year as no one else could find the net.  Now that goals are beginning to come from Walcott, Arteta, and random defenders as well, we seem much more resilient to a bad day for RVP.  Second and most important, the back four are playing well together and have become a solid unit.  The individual players have been good enough all year, but the unit did not begin to play well together until recently, which I think has coincided with the outstanding run.

This leads back to the match because there seems to be a good chance that Gibbs will miss out, which I think would be our main area of concern.  Andre Santos is a strange player, in that he is a defender who seems to have little experience defending.  If Santos plays, Wigan’s recently-excellent wing play could exploit this, and I think we could see lots of crosses coming in from Arsenal’s left (and “lots of crosses” often leads to “lots of goals and poor defending”).  Still, I think Arsenal should have enough to get by Wigan tomorrow.  As the Amigos mention in their preview, Wigan should be more fatigued than Arsenal.  Also, Wigan’s confidence will likely lead to them playing more open football, leaving space for Arsenal to play in.  Typically Arsenal can out-attack attack-minded teams from lower down the table.  Besides, Wigan can’t possibly beat Arsenal, Man United, and Chelsea (by rights) in a row can they?

 

Wigan Athletic 2 Stoke City 0: Great escape on track as defenders lead the way

Wigan kept the dream alive with an emphatic victory over Stoke City on Saturday, although results elsewhere conspired to keep them in the bottom three. Once again it was a centre-back who dealt the killer blow, with Antolin Alcaraz providing the kind of assertive finish his more attacking teammates had failed to produce all season. The Paraguayan’s thumping header was just reward for his excellent performances of late.

Stoke’s direct style of play needs no introduction, so it was no surprise that Latics controlled possession early on — and indeed for most of the match. The surprise here was the sloppy defending on display from Pulis’ typically disciplined and tenacious men.

First, Franco Di Santo dispossessed  a sleepy Andy Wilkinson early in the game with a great burst of speed, only to be thwarted by Asmir Begovic in a one-on-one opportunity. Several minutes later, fantastic work from Emmerson Boyce and Victor Moses found Shaun Maloney, who tested the Stoke keeper once again with a firm left-footed volley.

The little playmaker is looking more and more comfortable in the advanced central midfield role, and was named man of the match despite being substituted with a substantial amount of game to be played.

Boyce and Moses were proving a handful for Marc Wilson and Matthew Etherington down Stoke’s left, and the best chance of the half was the result of their pressure. A driven ball into Di Santo was flicked beautifully wide, from which Moses played an intelligent low cross into the path of Jean Beausejour. So often the provider, the Chilean made a mess of the chance, miscuing what should have been a simple tap-in. The Chilean had endured a frustrating first half trying — successfully, but at the expense of a yellow card and ongoing confrontation — to contain Jermaine Pennant. His face — distraught —  at the half-time whistle said it all.

The second half started in much the same vein as the first, with Wigan applying pressure but unable to convert their chances. Dean Whitehead clearly handled in the box (twice, in fact) but no penalty was awarded. Just as the supporters were starting to think it was going to be another of those days, a bit of Maloney trickery freed Beausejour down the left, who played a beautiful first-time cross onto the on-rushing Alcaraz’s head. In a season seriously lacking headed goals, such a fine finish was a sight for sore eyes. You could see what it meant to this committed group of players in their celebrations.

Ben Watson was brought on for Shaun Maloney, who had put in an excellent shift but was tiring. Beausejour had another golden chance when the former Crystal Palace man’s floated cross found him unmarked at the far post — not an easy finish but a fantastic opportunity nonetheless. Stoke brought on Ricardo Fuller and Cameron Jerome, and Wilson Palacios minutes later, but only managed to muster a half chance well-cleared by James MacArthur. Jordi Gomez and Conor Sammon were both introduced to keep possession and run around energetically, respectively — but it was Victor Moses who would seal the three points in injury time, catching Andy Wilkinson dozing once again, nipping past the keeper, and tapping into the empty net.

The Good:

This was almost the perfect performance. Everyone on the pitch worked their socks off, played some good football, and deserved three points. Maloney has been a revelation since coming into the side with his inventive runs and passing — though possibly less silky on the ball, he is much more direct than Jordi Gomez. Antolin Alcaraz, like Gary Caldwell, has been excellent of late and took his goal brilliantly. The three centre-backs were excellent in coping with Stoke’s aerial threat throughout and deserved their clean sheet. The James’ in midfield were once again dominant. Victor Moses not only scored but showed he can deliver the intelligent killer pass, when he pulls his head up. Boyce and Beausejour had difficult defensive tasks but were involved — even if their finishing let them down — in attacking play. Full marks for Roberto, things have been coming together for some time now, but save the poor finishing, this was a near-flawless performance.

The Bad: 

It certainly appears that Wolves are doomed to relegation. But two other direct rivals, Bolton and QPR, achieved vital wins. QPR have now beaten Liverpool and Arsenal in their last two games and are growing in belief. They have some quality players. Bolton have enjoyed a boost in the last few weeks. So we remain in the bottom three. Margins are incredibly tight. Three difficult fixtures loom against Chelsea, Man United, and Arsenal.

Conclusions:

Chelsea are enjoying a good spell of form under caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo, but have a congested fixture list. Any points at Stamford Bridge would be a minor miracle if you look at the squads and statistical odds, but our form is good, the belief is there, and we should have a go at them. Manchester United remain the only team we have never managed a point from in the league, but it has been very close a few times at the DW. Last season, Wayne Rooney should have been sent off for elbowing James McCarthy in the face. He wasn’t, of course, but if fair refereeing were to prevail, we’d have a chance. Arsenal away tends to be a nightmare for us, but we must see what happens in those first two — and with results elsewhere — before attaching too much importance to it. The final stretch offers promise:  Newcastle home, Fulham away, Blackburn away, Wolves home. Lets hope the good form continues and we’re still in striking distance after these brutal next three fixtures. Crucial to our chances is that we do not lose our heads if things are going poorly in the next three fixtures — we can’t afford three-match suspensions for any key players.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — Only touched the ball once or twice. Got an important fist to the ball early in the first half, but that was about it.

Antolin Alcaraz: 9 — Excellent defensively, fantastically taken goal.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — Accomplished performance marking Peter Crouch, who is at least a full head taller than him.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 — Did well. Perhaps he’ll be the next to pop up with a striker’s finish?

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Involved in Wigan’s best first half moves, linking up well with Victor Moses. Had a good chance in the first half but took a bad touch. That said, panicked a clearance that Jonathan Walters first-timed into the side-netting.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Interesting performance by the Chilean, who struggled at times with Jermaine Pennant and had to resort to a bit of professional fouling. But he stuck with him, nullified his threat, and still managed to get in goalscoring positions twice and provide the match-winning cross.

James McArthur: 8 — Did not put a foot wrong. Cleared Stoke’s only real chance in the second half. Superb tackling and closing down.

James McCarthy: 8 — One still wishes he would show a bit more of his attacking flair, but it shouldn’t take away from the strong, pacey and committed shifts he is putting in.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Always looking to create openings with the ball at his feet or a cheeky through ball, he has revitalized the side.

Victor Moses: 8.5 — Took his goal very well, and should have had at least one assist to his name. It speaks to his outstanding fitness levels that he was able to chase the ball down on the midfield line, sprint towards goal, and finish as coolly as he did — all in injury time.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — What a shame he couldn’t tuck away his chance. Once again, you can’t fault the lad for effort, or skill in his build-up play.

Subs:

Ben Watson: 6.5 — He was brought on to help the team regain and keep possession and largely, it worked. Almost made a mess of a clearance when Stoke attacked late in the second half.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Brought on in a defensive move to keep possession, but was played out on the right wing where he barely saw the ball. Did have the chance to make one deeply satisfying tackle though.

Conor Sammon: n/a — Can’t remember him touching the ball, but I was glad to see him come on for the last few minutes to help the cause with his workrate.

Liverpool 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Captain Caldwell stars as Latics claim historic win

Wigan’s strong run of recent form finally yielded the three point return it deserved on Saturday, in the least likely of places, and from the least likely of sources. Captain Gary Caldwell was the hero with the sort of poacher’s finish Anfield-goers came to expect of Robbie Fowler or Michael Owen. Indeed, everyone looked a bit bemused when the Scot recovered from the initial shock of finding himself with the ball in the box to turn Andy Carroll the wrong way and coolly slot past Pepe Reina. The Scot epitomizes the the determination and grit that has been on display in the club’s recent matches and his strike was well worthy of its place in the history books.

Earlier in the game, his compatriot Shaun Maloney had put Wigan 1-0 up from the penalty spot. Martin Skrtel, a bad choice for a babysitter, thwacked Victor Moses across the chest and face as he was trying to head a looping Gary Caldwell ball over Pepe Reina. It was clearly a penalty, but the type of decision Wigan too frequently don’t get awarded away against the big boys. Maloney took his opportunity perfectly, blasting low and left to claim his first goal for the club.

Moses, meanwhile, spent about 10 minutes on the sidelines, concussed, before it was determined he would not return. Reduced to ten men, Latics were forced to weather some Liverpool pressure, with Ali Al-Habsi making two fantastic saves from Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard to keep things even before Albert Crusat was introduced to make numbers even again.

Kenny Dalglish must have done a fair bit of shouting in the dressing room at half time because Liverpool returned with urgency and dynamism. The second half had hardly gotten under way when good link-up play between Suarez and Gerrard led to an equalizer. Gerrard was in acres of space on the left when he squared for Suarez, who deposited the ball neatly into the same corner of the net Maloney had minutes earlier. Latics were shaken, and a pivotal moment would soon follow.

Suarez wriggled past Figueroa on the right wing, the Honduran tugged him back, earning a yellow card for his troubles. Steven Gerrard whipped in a trademark far post cross, which Martin Skrtel headed into the ground, over Al-Habsi, toward the Wigan goal. Luis Suarez ploughed into Gary Caldwell, ramming his knees into the Scot’s chest, and appeared to use his arm to send the ball across the line. Caldwell hit the ground, the ball went into the back of the net, and Liverpool celebrated. After a good 15 seconds of celebration, referee Lee Mason called the goal back, booking Suarez in the process.

The decision, once again, was clearly correct, but one suspects it might have gone differently at Old Trafford. The incident killed Liverpool’s momentum and let Wigan back into the match. Having struggled for possession in the second half, Martinez gambled by removing Jean Beausejour and introducing Ben Watson, changed the team’s shape to his more traditional 4-5-1. The tactical rethink was immediately effective, with Latics controlling possession for a sustained period before Caldwell struck the winner. It worked so well, in fact, that Latics went closer to a third through Conor Sammon, after a terrific diagonal through ball from Maloney, than Liverpool went to an equalizer.

Ali Al-Habsi was called to attention once or twice more but looked sharp. Exciting 17-year-old Raheem Sterling and his pace was a bright note for Liverpool but Wigan held on for three points of gold.

The Good:

The result, and the confidence and belief that should follow it. There was some sloppy passing in the first half, a backs-to-the-wall sequence at the start of the second half, but the defending was generally solid and four clear cut goal-scoring opportunities were created.

The Scots. Shaun Maloney and Gary Caldwell scored the goals and enjoyed strong performances. But James McArthur and James McCarthy (almost/arguably Scottish) have been instrumental to the Wigan revival of late. Their work ethic is second to none. Even Maloney, more of a flair player, showed he is willing to get stuck in with a lunging tackle in the build-up to the first goal.

The Bad:

Victor Moses’ selfish streak. Again, when presented with the opportunity to lay the ball off to a teammate for a tap-in, he decided to go it alone. That said — lets hope he recovers after his concussion,  there were no fractures or lasting effects, and we see him back on the pitch next week.

Conclusions:

Having spent the previous weekend peppering Ben Foster and West Brom’s goalposts only to emerge with a single point, this was a deeply satisfying reversal in which Latics converted two of their four  chances, were composed and solid in the lead, and came closer to a third than Liverpool did to an equalizer. Wins like this instill real belief in players. We’ve now only lost one in seven, and it shows. Jean Beausejour is starting to show tricks down the left wing. Shaun Maloney looks fitter. James McCarthy has started shooting again. Gary Caldwell scored a goal with his feet! These are all signs that our players are starting to believe, to regain their confidence. It is a shame, in a way, that the Stoke match is next, given the club’s historical difficulty winning two games in a row. Another huge match beckons.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 8 — Made two or three top class saves to keep the Latics in the lead. Such an agile shot stopper, a pleasure to watch.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Strong, solid, coped well.

Gary Caldwell: 9 — Another excellent performance, capped off with an unlikely goal none of us will forget anytime soon.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Struggled with Suarez. The goal came down his side, although not his fault entirely. He gave away the free-kick that led to the disallowed second goal.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Decent, hard-working shift down the right.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — Very neat footwork, looked confident but only had the chance to deliver two or three crosses. Substituted in the second half to allow for tactical re-shape.

James McArthur: 7 — I wouldn’t like to play against him, he’s like the energizer bunny, only tougher.

James McCarthy: 8 — See James McArthur, but gets an extra point for one or two lovely positive attacking passes.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Took his penalty expertly, created a clear chance for Conor Sammon late on, neat with his passing. A breath of fresh air.

Victor Moses: 7 — Created and then missed a chance in the opening minutes, when he could have easily laid the ball off. Fouled and injured for the penalty. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — The lad doesn’t score many goals but you have to appreciate his work rate and sacrifice. Often isolated, he ran his socks off for the cause.

Subs:

Albert Crusat: 7 — Not much opportunity to show his attacking skill, and out of position for large chunks of time on the right, he tracked back dutifully and didn’t waste the ball.

Ben Watson: 8 — His introduction saw Latics regain possession. Nice to see him back.

Conor Sammon: n/a — Not on the pitch very long. Had a chance late on. Hard to say that he “missed it” but “might have done better”.