Wigan Athletic 1 Bolton Wanderers 3: Defensive disaster

Match Report: Wigan Athletic 1 Bolton Wanderers 3

If you’ve watched Latics at all in the past few years, you’ll be familiar with our two most basic failings — individual defensive mistakes, and a lack of killer instinct up front. When we lose matches, it’s generally the former, when we draw them, the latter. You might as well insert your joke here, as I’m basically saying we can’t defend or attack. But it’s not quite that simple. The amazing conclusion to last season proved that when concentration levels are high, and individual mistakes are cut out, there is enough talent up front to get the necessary points. But it is games like this one — a local derby no less — that just makes you scratch your head in disbelief.

How is it possible that these are the same players who battled so hard to keep us up last year — did they not learn anything at all from that experience? Each of the three defensive lapses was a direct result of being too casual, taking too much time on the ball, as though it were a kickabout at the park.

The key sentence in our match preview was “Whether Latics go on to beat Bolton resoundingly, or to even beat them at all, is going to depend on their approach to the game.” It’s hard to assign all blame to the coach when your defenders do silly things to give away goals, but Roberto’s lineup — and approach — was just too conservative. Packing the midfield is acceptable when you’re playing the big boys, but at home to Bolton, who were bottom of the table at kickoff? Come on. It sends the wrong message to the players, and affords too much respect to the opposition. Victor Moses was the only creative player on the pitch. Shaun Maloney could have started. We’ve seen all too little of Conor Sammon, who might’ve started as centre-forward, pushing Franco Di Santo out wide. We must assume Albert Crusat is injured, another shame, as his pace is much needed. What about Callum McManaman, Nouha Dicko, both of whom have been outstanding for the reserves?

All that said, I still thought we had enough to win it, in large part due to the return of Antolin Alcaraz. My optimism was short-lived, as it was a rusty Alcaraz who gave the ball away in the move that led to the first goal, and then later in the game for the third. Steve Gohouri, given the nod ahead of Maynor Figueroa at left-back — a strange move given Patrick Van Aanholt’s availability — had his worst match in a Wigan shirt. If he hadn’t cheaply given away possession right before half-time, Latics’ momentum probably would have carried them to victory in the second half.

The Good:

We should be pleased with Rodallega’s return, and that of Alcaraz, despite his mistakes. Ali Al-Habsi saved a penalty and remains someone we can rely on. Mo Diame scored again, and is emerging as our best midfielder. Victor Moses was dangerous as always, though he once again couldn’t score.

The Bad:

Lack of concentration. Individual mistakes. The manager’s defensive approach and tactical rigidity. The league table.

Credit Where it’s Due

Chris Eagles was a handful all afternoon and deserved his goal. David N’Gog’s goal was well taken, although all three goals exposed Gary Caldwell’s lack of pace in one way or another. If Latics players had even a percentage of the desire that Kevin Davis shows, in every single game, we’d be pushing for European places.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — Saved a penalty and wasn’t to blame for any of the goals.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Wasn’t involved in the poor defending that led to Bolton’s goals, but we didn’t see too much of him either.

Gary Caldwell: 5 — Beaten to the header by the less-than-lightning Nigel Reo-Coker for the first goal, gave the penalty away (though it was very soft indeed), and had his lack of pace exposed by David N’Gog for the second, and Chris Eagles for the third. A bad afternoon.

Antolin Alcaraz: 5 — Too casual, particularly given the fact it was his first match back from injury and he was bound to be a little rusty. Got caught in possession a few times, two of them led to goals. A shame, because he is our best centre-back.

Steve Gohouri: 5 — One to forget. Looked a bit confused at times at left-back, struggling with the impressive Chris Eagles. Caught trying to dribble his way out of trouble in the buildup to the second goal. Substituted at half-time. Not a left-back.

Ben Watson: 6 — I actually thought he was one of the better performers in the first half, but was sacrificed in order to bring on Hugo Rodallega at half-time.

Mo Diame: 7 — Took his goal very well, and the only Latics midfielder that consistently gets himself in scoring positions.

Dave Jones: 6 — Didn’t show his best, although his left foot set piece deliveries were useful (when he was allowed near the ball. What on earth was Di Santo doing taking direct free-kicks in the second half?!)

James McCarthy: 5 — For me, the biggest disappointment this season. Always works hard, but his class and attacking ability have been absent. So much potential, but if anything he has regressed. Still young, but we need him find his form.

Victor Moses: 7 — Same as every week. Dangerous, fast, powerful, a headache for the opposition, but needs someone to poke home the chances he creates. And a cooler head when he goes to finish them himself.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Worked hard, a decent and skilful target man who has everything except the goalscoring instincts. He is rarely in the right place at the right time, when a cross comes into the box.

Subs:

Hugo Rodallega: 6.5 — Latics did look better with him on the pitch, but he ballooned a dangerously positioned free-kick and had most of his shots blocked.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Better than Steve Gohouri.

Shaun Maloney:  N/A — Not on the pitch long enough to make an impact. Wish he had been in the starting lineup.

Advertisements

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.

Wigan 1 Norwich 1: Could have been worse, should have been much better

Match Report: Wigan Athletic 1 Norwich City 1

It is widely accepted that newly promoted teams are at their most dangerous in the first half of the season. Wigan Athletic was not the only club to discover that last year, with Arsenal losing at home to Blackpool and United being humbled at Burnley the year before that. Supporters are out in droves in the stands (the brighter their kits the greater odds of success, apparently), and on the pitch, sheer energy, belief and that winning attitude that comes from promotion, tends to mask inadequacies that so often prove the downfall later in the year.

Yesterday was another example. Though at  times sloppy and indecisive, Latics were a league above Norwich in terms of quality and pace, but the newly promoted side gave it all and got their reward. Poor finishing (two Di Santo headers, Sammon), some brave last ditch defending (De Laet from Rodallega and Moses), the Norwich keeper’s right post (denying Watson a sublime strike from the outside of his right boot), and an uncharacteristic blunder from keeper Ali Al-Habsi kept Latics from taking three points in this one, but sometimes you create your luck, and Norwich did just that.

You can read a more traditional match report here, along with Roberto’s post-match comments (more on those later), but for the time being here are the positives, the negatives, and some player ratings:

Positives:

Lots of goal-scoring chances. Victor Moses must have set a record with the amount of times he went past defenders. He is fantastic to watch and will only get better. Finishing needs work, although he did provide a sublime cross that Di Santo somehow managed to head over the bar. Moses needs to keep a cooler head when stepping into the box. N’Zogbia had that ability to pick out a corner, take his time, curl the ball rather than blast it. Moses tends to snatch at the ball, rushing hit shot. He’s a work in progress, but Norwich certainly couldn’t handle him.

Ben Watson gets better and better. Roberto tipped him for an England call-up this season. He’s an odd player, deceptively skillful;  he took his penalty very well, hit the post with a lovely strike in the second half, and almost set up a winner from the left wing after uncharacteristically beating the Norwich right-back for pace and sliding a cross in.

Maynor Figueroa looked lively, bursting forward and delivering two fantastic crosses, one of which Sammon should have done better with. He looked a bit tired toward the end with a few stray passes, but the side will need him joining the attack as he did yesterday. Probably benefited from Norwich’s concern with Victor Moses down that left flank. Theirs should prove an important partnership as the season goes on.

Negatives:

Poor finishing. Di Santo and Sammon both should have put the game to sleep, but Mo Diame also had a golden chance and went for a Hollywood lob from 4o yards out when he could have waltzed in and laid the ball of for Di Santo or finished himself. Moses might have done better with his final pass or shot on several occasions. Rodallega, on as a sub, looked lively, but you wonder if he would have scored at least one of those crosses had he been in the center-forward role rather than out wide.

Adrian Lopez had an absolute nightmare. Out-muscled, out of position and dodgy in possesion, you had to feel sorry for the guy after missing 10 minutes of the first half getting stitches after a collision with Norwich’s Morison, who by the looks of things has a very hard head. I assume, though haven’t confirmed that  neither Alcaraz nor Gohouri were fit enough to play, but based on this performance, it might be a better option to play Emmerson Boyce in the center with Caldwell, and give Stam another chance at right back.

Poor Al-Habsi. Bad mistake, cost the team two points. I hope, and doubt, it will happen again.

Player Ratings:

Al-Habsi:  4 — Didn’t have much to do, but made a fatal mistake and it visibly affected him for the rest of the match.

Boyce: 5 — Solid, but didn’t get forward much. If Jordi Gomez is going to be playing on the right wing, he will need to make overlapping runs, or that side of the pitch will be completely wasted.

Caldwell: 6 — Solid enough as well, can’t fault him for much, though it appeared he and Lopez had met in a bar the night before the match. But he did make some important blocks.

Lopez: 3 — Really dreadful. A liability. Had to get stitches early in the match, but he’d made a mistake before that, in the buildup to the collision. Looked uncomfortable, too slight against battering rams like Holt and Morison, and it was a relief when Martinez finally withdrew him.

Figueroa: 7 — Very positive attacking play. Used his pace well and looked dangerous. Norwich eventually started fouling him. Delivered a couple crosses that should have led to match-winners.

Watson: 7 — Looked a little rusty, but it promises to be a breakthrough season for him. What a shame his shot didn’t bounce in off the post.

Diame: 5 — Good on the ball, and went on some trademark mazy runs, but ultimately wasted the ball, and faded out of the match for minutes at a time. So much potential, but needs to keep his focus.

McCarthy: 5 — Clearly bothered by the ankle injury sustained against Villareal, James was very quiet by his standards. Played two very classy balls that could have led to goals, but the team will need him fit and firing this season.

Jordi Gomez: 5 — Not a right winger. You can’t really say he did much wrong, but his lack of pace makes that part of the field a non-threat. I suppose he could have been dangerous on set plays if there had been any, but there weren’t.

Moses: 8 — They didn’t know how to handle him. Just needs to work on his finishing, but constantly went past defenders as though they were training cones.

Di Santo: 6 — An infuriating player. Looked energetic and won the penalty (and then made a meal of what might have been a second penalty at the end of the first half), but showed again his lack of finishing. That said, Latics looked less of a threat when he went off.

Subs:

Rodallega: 6 — Looked lively and had one decent effort, and another blocked by about five Norwich defenders. But might have won the match if he’d been playing centrally. Why not put Di Santo out on the left for a bit and move Roda inside?

Sammon: 4 — Uncomfortable on the ball, he ran around a lot but squandered his only chance.

Stam: 5 — Not on the pitch too long, he was Ok.

In Conclusion:

Roberto said after the match that the squad needs two more faces. He also clarified that the recent bid for Peter Odemwingie, West Brom’s excellent striker, was not intended as a replacement for Rodaellega but as an addition. (Phew). Unfortunately, we won’t get him anyway. But assuming at least one of the new arrivals is a decent winger able to play on the left and allowing Rodallega to move inside, I think things look alright. McCarthy will become a key player once his ankle heals. Alcaraz should be back soon, and how he was missed yesterday. Al-Habsi will hopefully bounce back as he did after his only other costly blunder against Man City last year. This should have been three points, but there are enough positives to give hope. And it’s one more point at this stage than last year.

En Español:

Al-Habsi: 4 – No tuvo mucho que hacer, pero cometió un error fatal que visiblemente lo afectó durante el resto del partido.

Boyce: 5 – Solido, pero no consiguió avanzar mucho por esa banda derecha. Si Jordi Gómez va a jugar de puntero derecho, Boyce tendrá que tomar mas riesgos para evitar que ese pasillo derecho se pierda por completo.

Caldwell: 6 – Tambien solido, cumplio.

López: 3 – Realmente terrible. Incómodo con la pelota, perdio el duelo con el delantero Morison, y casi le regala el segundo a Norwich con un pase inexplicable a Ali Al-Habsi. Tiene que mejorar. Sustuvo un fuerte golpe a la cabeza empezando el partido y volvio a la cancha con diez puntos.

Figueroa: 7 – Muy positivo, se lanzo al ataque con peligro. Mando un par de centros que debieron haber terminado en gol.

Watson: 7 – Este promete ser una gran temporada para él. Cobro su penal con autoridad, y por poco gana el partido con un tremendo derechazo.

Diáme: 5 – Vivo y con buena gambeta, pero desaprovecho una exelente oportunidad en la primera parte intentando un tiro espectacular, y se luego se perdio. Mucho potencial, pero le falta concentracion.

McCarthy: 5 – Un poco callado, probablemente por la lesión en el tobillo que sufrio contra el Villareal. Puso dos pases esplendidos que podrían haber marcardo la diferencia. Pero se espera mas de el.

Jordi Gómez: 5 – No es un puntero derecho. No es que alla hecho algo malo — incluso no perdio la bola ni una sola vez — pero su falta de velocidad significa que por costado no hay amenaza.

Moses: 8 – Un crack. Sólo le falta frialdad a la hora de definir, pero tiene fuerza, velocidad, y un dribbling espectacular. Norwich no pudo con el.

Di Santo: 6 – Un jugador exasperante. Corrio, lucho, se gano el penal, pero mostró de nuevo que no tiene definicion. Pero le hizo falta al equipo cuando lo sustituyeron.

Subs:

Rodallega: 6 – Peligroso cuando entro, pero es mejor como centro delantero. Sigue siendo el mejor definidor del equipo. Ya recuperado, tiene que ser titular contra Swansea.

Sammon: 4 – Incómodo con la bola a sus pies, corrió y lucho, pero desperdició su única oportunidad.

Stam: 5 – Solo jugo diez minutos.