Wigan Athletic 2 Newcastle United 1: Great escape still on, just

KoneWigan emerged with three vital points by the hair on their chinny chin chins as Arouna Kone netted a somewhat fortunate last gasp winner to make the score 2-1. A Davide Santon equaliser on 70 minutes had swung the game Newcastle’s way after Wigan had largely looked in control, and both managers had signaled their intent with attacking substitutions. Jean Beausejour had scored his first goal for the club since arriving just over a year ago after excellent work from Callum McManaman early in the affair.

The win means three of the bottom five won this weekend, narrowing the gap between them and the middle of the table. Roberto Martinez has frequently spoken of a team higher up in the league becoming embroiled in the relegation battle, and so it seems with Sunderland, Norwich, West Ham — and Newcastle themselves — once again failing to win.

The good feeling had returned to the DW before kick-off thanks to the stunning 3-0 win at Goodison Park a week earlier, and the buzz created by the crowd translated into endeavor on the pitch in a strong and committed first half. Martinez was rewarded after surprising many by keeping his cup XI intact, as the lively McManaman repeatedly beat his man down the right flank and crossed only for the ball to bounce Beausejour’s way to put Wigan up. It was the young winger’s first league start, and despite being involved in a dangerous tackle later in the half, his performance should see him cement his place in the starting line-up come next weekend.

There were worrying signs after Newcastle leveled against the run of play, but lady luck smiled on the Latics as a corner bobbled wildly before bouncing off Kone’s outstretched leg to dramatically settle the contest.

The Good: 

An absolutely crucial and decisive result that breathes fresh hope into Wigan’s annual push for survival, and sends a message to the teams around them. With a second consecutive home tie against beatable opposition, there is a real opportunity to build momentum and make up some ground in the table. It is now four wins in five matches in all competitions and two in three in league play.

Martinez’s gamble paid off. Despite a couple wobbly moments, Joel Robles held his own between the sticks, while Jordi Gomez and McManaman performed well in midfield, and Antolin Alcaraz was once again excellent in defense. These were the four changes made to the side for the success at Everton and they may well have cemented their places in the team for the next few fixtures.

Wigan managed to do what they had thus far failed to do — grind out a result.

The Bad:

The way heads dropped after Santon’s equaliser was a concern. Before James McCarthy’s speculative cross led to the corner that ultimately won them the game, Wigan had not looked like scoring during the period of the match with a 1-1 score line.

Player Ratings:

Joel Robles: 6 — Looked confident, showed comfort on the ball, but flapped at a couple crosses. Considering the intensity of the occasion, however, this was a strong league debut for the young keeper. It is looking increasingly likely he will be signed permanently in the summer if terms can be agreed upon.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Disciplined defensively and occasionally burst forward, though often without support.

Antolin Alcaraz: 9 — Marshaled his defence with the composure, strength and speed that has so sorely been lacking this season.

Paul Scharner: 8 — Some excellent tackles, particularly in the first half. A couple panicky moments in the second but overall defended very well.

Maynor Figueroa: 7.5 — Probably should have blocked Santon’s goal-bound shot, but was otherwise excellent. Strong in his aerial defensive play and played some stunning cross field passes.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Tireless. Covered a lot of ground, threatened to burst through on a couple occasions.

Jordi Gomez: 7 — Good first half with some good interceptions and slide tackling. Faded in the second.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Also strong in the first half from his more advanced wing position. It was a pleasure to see him score — the goal was reward for a player who started the season poorly but has quietly regained his form.

Callum McManaman: 8 — He fades out of the match for periods of time, but every time he was on the ball he made things happen. His pace and dribbling added a new dimension to Wigan’s attack, and his quick feet and cross created the first goal.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Full of invention as always, unlucky not to score with a trademark curling effort in the first half and created several opportunities of danger that his teammates were unable to capitalise on.

Arouna Kone: 7 — Worked hard up front as lone striker and got his reward as he prodded home from the right place at the right time. Heavy touch on occasion, but his goal haul for the season has already been an improvement on any other striker in the Martinez era.

Subs: 

James McArthur: 8 — Came on as a defensive replacement for Callum McManaman and played very well, disrupting play and driving forward.

Franco Di Santo: On for the last ten minutes but couldn’t really get going. His presence unsettled the Newcastle defence in the build-up to the winner.

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Blackburn Rovers 0 Wigan Athletic 1: Great escape sealed by Alcaraz

Wigan Athletic will be in the Premier League for an eighth straight year, crowning a truly unbelievable run of results with an away win at Ewood Park last Monday. A draw may well have been enough from the Latics perspective, but Antolin Alcaraz’s late headed winner was fair reward for another display of cultured, confident passing in difficult playing conditions, in a venue that had not been kind to the Latics in years past.

Anything but a win would have spelled the end for Blackburn, a club in free-fall, but they seemed to have accepted their fate from the outset. This is a club in crisis from top to bottom. Injured and demoralized players, furious fans, inept management and clueless owners — however dire our season may have looked two months ago when we were relegation certainties, it never approach that sort of madness.

And so the first half was all Wigan, with Franco Di Santo and Victor Moses both going very close and Ali Al-Habsi only called into action to catch a stray chicken. If the Blackburn support deserves credit for one thing this season, it is for smuggling that chicken past security.  They did find their voices in the second half, however, and were unlucky not to be celebrating a penalty when Emmerson Boyce tangled with Junior Hoilett in the box. Indeed, there was a nervy period in that second half when Blackburn pumped the crosses in from every angle and Wigan rode their luck, but the initiative was swiftly regained in the final quarter and victory was sealed, ironically, off a set play header.

But you knew most of this already. Lets take this moment to celebrate a truly unbelievable couple months for the club.

The Good:

A fantastic away performance. Dominant in the first half, resolute in the second, and fit enough to win it late on a very heavy pitch. A goal from a corner. The team has become stronger at both attacking and defending set plays. Of the starting XI, only Emmerson Boyce and Maynor Figueroa were not Roberto Martinez signings. He has slowly but surely built a team of his own at Wigan. Congratulations to him and his players, whose commitment and skill have earned the best results and highest-level of performance in the club’s history, after a very difficult season.

The Bad:

It is never fun to watch another team and set of supporters go down.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 8 — Dealt well with the chicken, and made one or two important saves when the pressure was on in the second half.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Almost gave away a penalty but otherwise good.

Antolin Alcaraz: 9 — Outstanding performance, capped off with the winning goal. His absence for most of the first half of the season was a huge factor in the team’s poor form.

Gary Caldwell: 8.5 — Captain fantastic was honoured with the Fans Player of the Season award in midweek, and truly deserves it. Solid again.

Maynor Figueroa: 8.5 — Honoured by his fellow players as their player of the year, a tremendous achievement for a player who has enjoyed his best season in a Latics shirt.

Jean Beausejour: 8.5 — Caused Blackburn trouble with neat footwork down the left, and supplied the cross for the winning goal.

James McArthur: 8.5 — Gets better and better, his passing is thoroughly efficient and neat, but he also has an eye for a through-ball when he gets forward. Really looking forward to watching his continued growth next season.

James McCarthy: 8.5 — The only thing he is lacking from his game is a goal or five. Unfortunately, as soon as he starts producing those, someone will snap him up. The complete midfielder.

Shaun Maloney: 8.5 — Another bright display by the little magician.

Victor Moses: 8.5 — They couldn’t handle him, but his finishing was not the best this time around.

Franco Di Santo: 8.5 — Decent game with some great build-up play, but missed a great chance in the first few minutes of the game.

Subs:

Conor Sammon: N/A — Might have gotten on the end of a beautiful right-wing delivery, but otherwise didn’t see too much of the ball. A likeable player, but how much longer will he be given to prove himself. A striker will surely be signed this summer following Rodallega’s departure.