Everton 0 Wigan Athletic 3: Rampant Latics into semi-finals for the first time

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Three goals in four magical minutes highlighted a complete performance by a mixed but well balanced Wigan XI as they reached the FA Cup’s final four for the first time in the club’s history.

However precarious their league position, the accomplishment at Goodison Park shines a light on the progress achieved in the Roberto Martinez era. Not only was this an impressive away win against a strong team hungry for silverware — several of today’s starters were fringe players, and the captain was rested. This sort of depth simply did not exist at the club three years ago.

In a more immediate sense, this was the best possible way to put the Liverpool fracas behind them and bore a lot more resemblance to the success at Reading. There is no hiding that Wigan’s best football is coming away from home in that black strip. Before Figueroa’s opening goal — an achievement in itself as it came from a set piece against one of the biggest teams in the league — Shaun Maloney had hit the post with an excellent curling effort and James McCarthy had been denied by Tim Howard’s replacement in the Everton goal, Jan Mucha. At the other end, Everton had been limited to a single chance well-saved by young Spanish keeper Joel Robles.

The second half was an exercise in resistance, with the sorely missed Antolin Alcaraz comfortably returning to the centre of defence after a season blighted with injury. Everton huffed and puffed but couldn’t create the breakthrough, and Wigan cruised to a second consecutive 3-0 away victory.

The Good:

Performances like this breathe fresh hope into the club’s survival prospects in the league. The return of Antolin Alcaraz brought defensive solidity and an assured presence. Concentration and focus was everything is wasn’t against Liverpool a week ago.

Martinez got his tactics right, deploying a strong back four, with Jean Beausejour and Callum McManaman in more advanced wing positions and Jordi Gomez partnering James McCarthy in midfield. Much of Wigan’s attacking success came down the left wing, where both Beausejour and Gomez were able to find space and deliver left footed crosses into the box. Though comparatively quiet on the right hand side, Callum McManaman looked sharp and took his goal superbly. His presence in a more traditional winger role was probably also intended to keep Leighton Baines pegged back, and was largely effective in doing so.

The finishing was superb and came from different areas of the pitch, from different types of situations. A set piece, a breakaway, and a goal from attacking possession. Header, right-foot, left-foot.

Joel Robles had a very good game in goal and looks a promising young deputy for Ali Al-Habsi.

The Bad:

Injuries to Callum McManaman and his replacement, Ryo Miyaichi, were the only negatives from today’s match. Results elsewhere, however — with victories for QPR and Aston Villa and an away point for Southampton — heap the pressure on Wigan to keep up.

Player Ratings:

Joel Robles: 7.5 — Made several good saves, both high and low, suggesting he is an agile shot stopper. Dealt well with a couple crosses and on the whole looks a decent young keeper. Martinez will be keen to make his loan move permanent this summer.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Focused and disciplined in defense. Didn’t get forward but largely dealt with the significant threat of Baines and Steven Pienaar down the flank.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Strong and composed. Surely the season would have gone quite differently if he had been fit and available. Will captain Gary Caldwell get his place back?

Paul Scharner: 8 — Excellent, with one spectacular tackle to block a Baines cross in the first half, and good work in the air to thwart Marouanne Fellaini.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 — Another excellent performer, strong in defence and among the goalscorers once again.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Steady and carried greater defensive responsibility given his more attacking partner in midfield.

Jordi Gomez: 7.5 — Took his goal extremely well and held his own in a less familiar central midfield role. Not as strong defensively as James McArthur but his left foot offered greater variety in Wigan’s attacking play.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Good performance from the Chilean, who rarely wasted the ball, showed some quick footwork and linked up well with his teammates. Most of Wigan’s attacking play came down his side.

Callum McManaman: 8 — Excellent touch and finish for the goal. Had earlier played a lovely cross-pitch ball to Shaun Maloney, who hit the post. Not terribly involved, but sharp when called into action. Pushing for a league start.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Unlucky not to be on the score sheet. Buzzed about as ever, drawing fouls and causing trouble.

Arouna Kone: 7.5 — Superb hold-up play all match long despite battling two physical central defenders on his own. Headed a decent chance over the bar early in the first half but didn’t have any other opportunities to score himself. Rewarded with an assist for the third goal.

Subs:

Ryo Miyaichi: 6 — Looked a bit rusty after missing several months through injury. Went off injured again after being clattered into the advertising boards.

James McArthur: N/A — Came on for Miyaichi and hold on to the result.

Everton 2 Wigan Athletic 1: No luck

It’s old news by now. A sound defensive-minded Latics effort was undone by a lucky deflected Leon Osman strike early in the second half. Wigan’s response was strong — so strong in fact that it posed the question why Roberto didn’t have a more concerted go at Everton in the first place. A crystal clear Shaun Maloney penalty was not given, and soon after Everton had doubled their lead through a Phil Jagielka wonder-header. Arouna Kone scrambled in a consolation goal in the last ten minutes.

The Good:

The defending was good. Martinez’s decision to drop Franco Di Santo in favour of the extra midfield player worked well from a possession and defensive perspective. David Jones was excellent and is really enjoying his extended run in the team. The team performance overall, was favourable. Arouna Kone got a much-needed goal. The league table is still tight — a few points would dramatically change the club’s outlook.

The Bad:

Another narrow defeat down to a bad refereeing decision. Rumours that Liverpool are after Franco Di Santo.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Had very little to do. No fault on the goals.

Emmerson Boyce: 8 — Very good defensive performance.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Unlucky to have the ball deflect off him for the first goal but it was nice to have him back.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Defended very well, might have been out of position for Jagielka’s goal.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Needs to find his form if Wigan are to start scoring goals again.

Ronnie Stam: 6 — Struggled against Baines and Pienaar but offered energy in attack.

James McArthur: 7 — Steady as always.

David Jones: 8 — Excellent shift.

James McCarthy: 7 — As ever.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 — Very positive, should have been awarded a penalty, and probably would have emerged with the equaliser from it.

Arouna Kone: 6 — Worked very hard but was isolated for most of the match. Hopefully the goal will give him that confidence and composure he had at the beginning of the season but has lost in recent times.

Subs:

Franco Di Santo: Took a few touches to catch up to the pace of the game, but added energy to the attack.

Jordi Gomez: Not enough time.

Much to appreciate despite late equalizer

An outstanding afternoon of Premier League football at the DW saw former hero and youth system product Leighton Baines cap a man of the match performance with the most emphatic penalty finish in recent memory. He has always been a tremendously skilled player, but the fact that Everton have built their team around him — a left back — is mightier praise than any words could offer. A slightly more muted celebration might have been welcome at the DW, but he remains a source of pride for those who witnessed his beginnings in Wigan.

Before the equaliser, Latics had enjoyed a very good first half, filled with the kind of crisp passing, pace and attacking incision Roberto has been working toward for some time now. Everton were always dangerous — little surprise with the amount of quality on display — but had fallen 2-1 behind and were a bit lucky to remain on even footing after Marouane Fellaini appeared to elbow Figueroa in the face. He’d been growingly frustrated throughout the half as Latics clearly sought to reduce his aerial threat on set pieces with a gentle shove here and there. The decision not to send him off was probably influenced by an earlier talking point. Latics’ first goal, an Arouna Kone header from a Sean Maloney cross, was marginally offside.

In the end, pressure told and Latics’ rearguard were undone by panic and good attacking pressure by their opponents, giving away a penalty with three minutes of regulation time to play. Baines stepped up, and despite a late flourish from the Latics including a glorious spurned opportunity by Sean Maloney, the result stood.

The Good:

The front three were in devastating form. Franco Di Santo showed no signs of rust after missing a game and a half through injury. His was a performance of pace, quality and intelligent passing and movement. His goal was well-taken, and he has now scored 3 for the season, despite missing the aforementioned game and a half. Arouna Kone put in his best performance in a Latics shirt and was a constant threat. He looks to have developed a good understanding with his attacking teammates and in this form, will never be far from the scoresheet. Sean Maloney was bright and dangerous all match, free to roam the pitch as lone playmaker, and might have sealed the win for Latics on a couple occasions with better finishing.

Particularly in the first half, the Jimmy Macs were showing the kind of energy and ferocity that led to Latics’ big results last season. First to every 50-50%, competitive but generally clean, they were a joy to watch. McArthur gave the ball away a couple times, McCarthy once — but in general their passing too, was of a high standard.

The Bad:

The lack of defensive composure to hold on to the result as pressure mounted. The McManaman-for-Di Santo substitution made sense but didn’t amount to much. The bigger question was why an extra ball-playing midfielder wasn’t introduced to try and regain possession when Everton were turning the screw. Still — Everton have the air of a team on the ascendancy. While always appreciative of David Moyes results on a tighter budget that their direct competitors in the upper part of the table, I’ve never been convinced of the type of football his teams display. But this is a side with real balance, understanding, and attacking flair. Credit where it’s due.

Conclusions:

We said in our preview that three points were needed. I’m personally satisfied with the result and performance, despite the disappointment of being unable to hold onto the three points. The way our attacking players linked up together in the first half in particular, but also in that late flourish, shows real promise. Sure, we are light on points, but there is quality in this side.

Kone has bedded in. It was bound to take a few matches, but his link-up play with Di Santo and Maloney was outstanding. His passing was intelligent and pace a threat.

Maloney is much more effective as the lone playmaker, as Jakarta Jack previously wrote about on this blog. He is a versatile attacker, full of invention, flicks and an eye for the killer through-ball. But it was his dribbling that left Seamus Coleman on his bum for the first goal. The freedom to move from one side to the other, identify and then run at the weaker defenders, brought out the best in him despite the missed opportunity at the end of the match.

On the surface, Emmerson Boyce’s season has been below the high standard he set last season. His attacking contribution has been small. But even on a tough day like this one, the advantage of having him in the side was evidenced in the number of clearances made with his head from set pieces. When you are only playing with three at the back, having him act as a fourth centre back on set pieces is crucial.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 8 – Made some very good saves; one first half dipper in particular, was world class.

Ivan Ramis: 7.5 – My pick of the centre-backs, this might have been his best match so far in blue and white despite facing the outstanding pair of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines.

Gary Caldwell: 6 – Flustered towards the end.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 – Did okay despite the threat of the lively Kevin Mirallas, but might’ve ended up the villain if Kevin Friend had awarded a penalty aginst him in a 50-50 challenge with Jelavic.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – No attacking contribution, which is entirely understandable when you have Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar running at you. Defended well on set pieces.

Jean Beausejour: 6 – Some nice touches, passes and deliveries in the first half, but faded with the rest of the team in the second.

James McCarthy: 7 – There was a moment in the second half when he misplaced a pass and the whole stadium seemed to gasp and groan at the same time. You just don’t expect it. His pass completion rate is outstanding. He was immense in the first half but found it harder in the second.

James McArthur: 6.5 – Also fantastic in the first half, fading in the second.

Sean Maloney: 7.5 – Energetic, inventive 95 minutes from the little magician. Loses marks for uncharacteristically opting to shoot instead of squaring for an easy tap-in in the dying minutes of the match. Set up the first goal with a good piece of skill.

Franco Di Santo: 8.5 – Rarely loses the ball, and his use of it just keeps getting better. Developing into an elegant and mobile centre forward, with a vastly improved goals-per-game ratio.

Arouna Kone: 9 – Thoroughly impressive. On his own up front for large stretches for the match, but did a lot more than hold the ball up and knock it back — he seeks to create chances with his passing and running. A dynamic and highly promising performance.

Subs:

Callum McManaman: Must be personally pleased to be chosen to enter the fray at such a crucial time in the match. Has leapfrogged quite a few players in the pecking order in the last few months. More to come, hopefully…

Wigan vs. Everton: Three points needed

Never has a Premier League table so early in the season so closely resembled the way most of us expect it to finish in May. Yes, Liverpool will climb and West Ham will slip, and Arsenal have had a difficult fixture list. The mid-table teams will shuffle around according to form. But by and large, the top and bottom five include four of those you would expect to be in there. There is no Hull (or Norwich, or Wigan for that matter) flying in 2nd place on enthusiasm and adrenalin — in fact, this year’s candidates for such a feat, Southampton and Reading, are already languishing in the relegation zone.

The team that does occupy 2nd place is Everton. Are they the Newcastle of last season? You certainly don’t get the sense that they’re just keeping the spot warm for a bigger club.

It was clear they meant business in the opening fixture against Manchester United. Players and fans alike were fired up with energy levels high and atmosphere both electric and intimidating at Goodison. After that win, they deflated Michael Laudrup’s high flying (at the time) Swans with a 3-0 away victory, were extremely unfortunate not to beat Newcastle, and took all three points from Villa. They disposed of Southampton quite easily last weekend, and only stumbled away at West Brom. It is fair to say they are a team in form.

Latics meanwhile, have had a topsy turvy start to the season. The thumping 4-1 League Cup wins over Nottingham Forest and West Ham have cushioned the disappointment of missed opportunities in the Premier League. If the kind of finishing we saw in the confident and stylish win at Southampton had been on show against Stoke, Fulham and Sunderland, Latics may well have picked up 9 points and be in that top five. Instead, poor finishing from Wigan has left the side in the bottom five.

Jakarta Jack called for a shake-up in his article earlier this week. Not necessarily wholesale, but a few fresh faces to liven things up. I suspect we might see one or two. For one, I think Mauro Boselli will be involved. His form and finishing in the League Cup and reserves has been sensational. Arouna Koné has been unlucky but really should have scored one or two more than he has, while Di Santo’s form interrupted by injury.

Jordi Gomez’s suspension has been repealed, but Di Santo’s return to fitness should in turn signal a return to the bench for the Spaniard. Ryo Miyaichi and Callum McManaman have been used as impact subs in the last two matches but must be in contention. Antolin Alcaraz can’t return soon enough in defence.

Everton are looking scary. Leighton Baines is practically a playmaker at left back, and an excellent one at that. His partnership with Steven Pienaar down the left is extremely dangerous and Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis will have to be alert. Kevin Mirallas looks a quality player. Nikica Jelavic has continued last season’s form with three goals in five league matches. Marouane Fellaini is attracting interest from bigger clubs. Their defence is one of the most established in the league having played together for a number of seasons. And with Victor Anichebe, Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith on the bench, they have depth.

But Latics need three points to arrest this slump of late — I suspect there will be a real urgency around the DW tomorrow. If they take their chances, they can get them.

Everton 3 Wigan 1: Missed opportunity as Latics lose to uninspiring Everton, and lose Rodallega to injury

Everton 3 Wigan Athletic 1

As expected, Everton were largely unimpressive, a side full of battle but completely devoid of imagination or flair. But they still managed to emerge with all three points, largely thanks to their aerial prowess and Latics’ reluctance to push forward in search of three points when they were there for the taking. It was a frustrating afternoon for the Latics faithful. Having watched their team contain Everton despite a makeshift defense with Maynor Figueroa in the centre, Adrian Lopez at right-back, and Patrick Van Aanholt making his Premier League debut at left-back, Latics had started the second period with genuine promise. You could feel the tension mounting at Goodison, and as Wigan created chances, it looked decreasingly likely that Moyes’ men would make a breakthrough. Victor Moses and the outstanding Patrick Van Aanholt both went very close but a deep cross from Tony Hibbert was met powerfully by big Greek centre-forward Vellios for Everton’s winner, late in the game. The crossbar then denied substitute Dave Jones an exquisite chipped equaliser, but as Latics desperately pushed forward, they left too much space for new Everton signing Royston Drenthe to put things beyond doubt.

Probably as important as losing the match, Hugo Rodallega was stretchered off with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. It has been reported that he has suffered ligament damage and may be out until Christmas, a devastating blow. The positive news is that Shaun Maloney was signed to play in the position Hugo has been occupying, while Franco Di Santo’s current form as lone centre-forward offers promise.

The Good

Despite defensive injuries to the three important defenders in Alcaraz, Boyce and Gohouri, the defense put in a valiant shift. While Maynor Figueroa was eventually beaten in the air for the winning goal, he had performed well at centre-back. Van Aanholt was a revelation, solid in his defensive work and very clearly a talented attacking threat as well. His crossing, dribbling, and shooting deserved greater reward in the second half.

Franco Di Santo has now scored three in four. His latest was another rocket, also slightly deflected, but his confidence and overall performance gives plenty of hope.

The Bad

Rodallega’s injury. As frustrating as he can sometimes be, he is the club’s best forward and draws markers away from other attackers even when he’s not scoring. Victor Moses will need to start scoring in his absence, while opportunity beckons for Shaun Maloney and Albert Crusat. A report on a Colombian website quotes Hugo as saying the team doctor believes the injury not to be as bad as originally thought. It is believed the problem is with his meniscus rather than the ligaments. Lets hope so.

Roberto’s approach in the second half felt too cautious. Latics were creating chances and could have won this match with a little more adventure in the minutes leading up to Everton’s goal. A point wouldn’t have been bad — and Martinez’s mentality is understandable with a relegation battle so fresh in the mind — but these missed opportunities are starting to add up.

A Neutral Would Say

Save glimpses from Moses and Van Aanholt, not much quality in this borefest.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — Can’t blame him for any of the goals. Made a couple decent saves early in the game.

Adrian Lopez: 5 — Uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, his passing is not very good. He did alright defensively but  the return of Gohouri, Alcaraz and Boyce can’t come soon enough.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — The usual from the captain, who has already played with four different partners in the heart of defense this season.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Got beat in the air for Everton’s second goal, but at times looked a quality centre-back and played some very good passes that either did or should have resulted in dangerous breakaways.

Patrick Van Anholt: 8 — Excellent. Solid at left-back, dangerous when he got forward. He can cross, dribble and shoot by the looks of it. Unlucky not to score after a dazzling run that culminated in a right-footed shot just over the bar.

Ben Watson: 6 — Some neat passing at times, but would love to see him get forward more often, he has an eye for goal when he’s around the box.

James McCarthy: 6 — Remains this season’s biggest under-performer, although he deserves credit for the amount of running and tackling he did in midfield. Latics will need him to regain his attacking form soon though.

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Drew a lot of fouls as usual. Should be allowed to take all direct free-kicks as he is the only player with proven success from them.

Hugo Rodallega: 5 — Kept very quiet by Everton’s defense. Injured just before the 90th minute.

Victor Moses: 7 — Dangerous, but yet again guilty of a little hesitation at the crucial moment. He has been very, very close in every match this season, surely the goals will come soon.

Franco Di Santo: 7.5 — Worked very hard for the team and was confident enough to beat his man and shoot from a tight angle for the goal. Decent performance.

Subs:

Dave Jones: 7 — So unlucky not to score with an improvised chip immediately after Everton’s second goal. Clearly a cultured player with a lovely left foot.

Shaun Maloney: N/A — Hardly touched the ball in his 7 minutes on the pitch.