Southampton 0 Wigan Athletic 2: Mature Latics win tricky fixture

Saturday’s was a calm and measured performance in which, as time went on, the gulf in experience and class between the two sides appeared to widen.

Had Adam Lallana’s excellent long range strike not been expertly tipped onto the bar by Ali Al-Habsi in the first half, we might be telling a different story. As it was, Wigan limited Southampton to hopeful long range efforts or deep crosses in the first half, before pouncing early in the second and cruising from there on out.

Indeed there was a period of about 4-5 minutes in the second half as Latics pinged the ball around park when it was a like watching Spain — Southampton couldn’t get near them. Statistics will suggest Southampton had the better of the goal attempts, but each of Latics breakaways was incisive and dangerous, while the newly promoted side couldn’t find a way through. The first goal resulted from a cheeky Shaun Maloney flick, which Franco Di Santo raced onto and smashed into the roof of the net. The second was a little more controversial as new-boy Arouna Koné forcefully dispossessed a Southampton defender close to midfield before racing down the pitch to thump home.

The Good:

This performance — as did the final 80 minutes against Chelsea — mirrored the excellent form that kept us up last season. The passing, midfield pressing and levels of concentration were outstanding. The finishes from each striker were as emphatic as any in our Premier League days. New signings Koné and Ramis got another 90 minutes under their belts and performed well.

The Bad:

Not much, really. I felt Victor Moses was missed in the first half and would have been a useful outlet when the team was trying to weather the early storm. Some matches will require players with a bit of dribbling and pace, and the hope is that players like Albert Crusat, Ryo Miyaichi or Callum McManaman can fill that void. But overall we can safely say the squad is strong and full of options, and didn’t miss Vic in this particular fixture.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 8 — Fantastic. Kept Wigan in it, and ahead, with some brilliant reflex saves. Wisely punched away long range efforts in rainy conditions.

Antolin Alcaraz: 7.5 — Very strong and assured performance from the Paraguayan. It was a pleasure to watch all three centre-backs stroking the ball around, their distribution was excellent.

Gary Caldwell: 7.5 — See Alcaraz.

Ivan Ramis: 7.5 — See Caldwell and Alcaraz. A much more assured showing after that difficult debut against Chelsea. Looked the part.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Didn’t get forward quite as much as we’d like, but didn’t let anyone down.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Typically solid, played a delicious chipped cross from a tight angle in the second half that the strikers weren’t ready for.

James McArthur: 7.5 — Made some fantastic tackles in the first half, and enjoyed possession in the second.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — See McArthur. Still hoping to see him appear in more advanced positions from time to time.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 — Quiet in the first half when the team was on the back foot, but excellent in the second before being withdrawn. As usual, provided the creative spark that put us ahead.

Franco Di Santo: 7.5 — An odd and interesting day for the Argentine. Accustomed to leading the line as target man, he played a wider role for much of the match with Koné ahead. We saw a lot less of him holding the ball up, chasing down defenders, and instead saw him pop up out of nowhere to score a very well-taken goal.

Arouna Koné: 7 — Improved as the match went on. His first touch let him down a few times, but he combined very well with Jordi, before smashing home late in the game. A hugely promising signing.

Subs:

Jordi Gomez: 7.5 — Playing in-the-hole, he caused plenty of trouble in his half an hour on the pitch. A ferocious long range effort and fantastic through ball to Koné stand out.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — Nothing flash, but came on as a left winger and was neat in his play. Will be hoping to push his way back into the lineup, having proved his fitness.

Mauro Boselli: N/A — Only on the pitch for a couple minutes, but it was good to see him back. No doubt he will get a chance to shine against Forest on Tuesday.

Chelsea reaction: The good, the bad and the player ratings

Each week, after the dust has settled, we’ll be taking a look back on the latest Wigan Athletic result. This week, we examine the lessons from the 2-0 home loss to Chelsea. If you missed our match report, please check it out here.

The Good:

1. Momentum: Despite the wooden start, Latics played in very much the same flowing style and tactical shape as they ended last season. Even the most optimistic of us had felt there was a possibility the team would lose their momentum, or that Roberto might revert to his previously preferred 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 formation. Rustiness and fitness issues aside, the XI on the pitch looked no weaker than last season — while the seven on the bench looked stronger.

2. Maynor Figueroa, the wingback: While the signing of Ivan Ramis provides necessary cover and competition for the established back three, this match confirms it does the same at left wingback. Jean Beausejour remains untouchable when fit, a specialist in his position whose form swung Latics fortunes last season. But Maynor proved on Sunday that he is an excellent option, far more suited that the willing, but ill-suited Dave Jones, who filled the position before Beausejour’s arrival in January. His through ball for Franco Di Santo in the first half was particularly impressive — great vision.

3. Depth: Players like Ryo Miyaichi, Ronnie Stam and Callum McManaman weren’t even on the bench. Nouha Dicko was allowed to leave for a season-long loan at Blackpool. How far we’ve come in the last few years.

4. Statistics: While  we concede that Chelsea were 2-0 up for almost 90% of the match, Wigan were as good or better than them for most of the game. Latics enjoyed 7 corners to Chelsea’s 1, 15 goal attempts to Chelsea’s 6, and 52% possession of the ball.

The Bad:

1. Baptism of fire for Ivan: Having been turned a little too easily by Eden Hazard in midfield in the build-up to the first goal, the defender then lunged at the French attacker in the box, giving away a penalty minutes later. Rough start, but he improved as the match went on.

2. Injuries: Both Shaun Maloney and James McArthur had to be withdrawn with niggles. It has since been reported that they should be fit to play Southampton this weekend, but the McArthur back issue in particular has the potential to continue flaring up if he doesn’t get adequate rest and treatment.

3. Opportunity lost: With a better start, Latics might have gotten something out of this game. Chelsea were good on the break, but wouldn’t have been playing on the break quite as much if they hadn’t taken that early lead.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Didn’t have much to do other than retrieve the ball from the back of his net.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — A little rusty in the first half but got better as the game went on, and even contributed the attacking effort in the second.

Gary Caldwell: 7 — Good display from the captain, steady in defense and strong in distribution.

Ivan Ramis: 5 — The early mistakes ultimately cost Latics the points, but there was much to like about his reaction to them. Should prove a good addition once settled.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Looked instantly comfortable in the left-wingback role.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Strong and steady when defending, delivered some quality crosses in the first half.

James McArthur: 6 — Did okay despite a bit of rust, before being withdrawn due to a recurrence of his back injury.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Very strong in midfield, rarely gave the ball away, great range of passing. We only wish he would shoot more often.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 — Excellent in the first half, creative, energetic and positive.

Victor Moses: 7 — Gave the Chelsea fullbacks a torrid time when he ran at them. A few poor crosses but a few excellent ones as well, plus a snapshot from an impossible angle that troubled Peter Cech in the first half. Hope he stays.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Got into some good positions but headed narrowly over early on and took a heavy touch after being sent through by Figueroa late in the first half.

Subs:

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Latics did lose some of their positivity when Maloney went off, but Jordi was fairly involved, drew fouls for the team, and might have scored on several occasions.

Arouna Koné: 7 — His first few touches were nervy, but he kept the ball and his movement was hugely promising. He got on the end of two or three crosses and almost scored from each of them.

Ben Watson: 6 — A little rusty as many of his teammates, didn’t contribute an immense amount but didn’t let anyone down either.