Does Rosler want promotion this season?

Uwe Rösler. Thanks to Beesotted Brentford for photo.

Another defeat to a mediocre team, say the cynics. They say that Latics don’t really want promotion this year – they are not ready. Give it another year and Rosler will have his own players playing in the style he seeks. Better to build up a nucleus of players who can serve us for years to come.

The 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield has opened up old wounds. Uwe Rosler’s honeymoon period at the club is nearing its end. Around 1,500 supporters made the trip across the Pennines yesterday in foul weather, but many must have come back disgruntled. The German’s team selection was puzzling.  Most people had expected him to play the wing duo of Callum McManaman and James McClean, but it was to be Martyn Waghorn and Jean Beausejour. Moreover with the wind behind them in the first half Latics did not utilize it to the same degree that Huddersfield were to in the second half.

But this was only Latics’ second league defeat in ten games since Rosler arrived, during which they have amassed 18 points. If they continue at that rate until the end of the season they will equal the 72 attained by Crystal Palace last year to reach sixth place and to go on to win the play-offs. In the two years prior to that the sixth place gathered 75 points. Wigan currently have 40 points from 28 matches. Rosler has mentioned the need to average 2 points per game. Were Latics to be able to do that until the end of the season it would leave them with 76 points.

There are fans who do not want Wigan Athletic to go up this season or next. They have seen Latics struggle to survive in the ‘Greed League’, year after year, against the odds. Seeing your team lose 9-1 and 8-0 can be depressing, as can having to sell your best players to keep financially afloat. The more senior of those fans might even remember the non-league days and the excitement of getting into the Football League in 1978. They have seen the club come so far but no longer yearn for higher things. Some talk of Latics having a slot in the lower divisions, playing against more humble opposition, but at least on an even keel.

But then again Wigan Athletic have a firm fan base of younger people who had known nothing but Premier League football until relegation last May. They want to see teams like Arsenal and Manchester United come to Wigan with their superstar players.  The sooner Latics get back into the Premier League the better for most young fans.

When a new manager comes in he tends to bring in his own players. Rosler brought in four loan signings and another on a short term contract over the January transfer window. It looks like Tyias Browning, signed on a one month loan, is going back to Everton.  Rosler will be hoping to get ex-Rochdale player Craig Dawson from West Bromwich Albion, as another loan signing over the coming week, which would be much to the chagrin of Bolton fans.  Dawson clearly made a very positive impression when playing at the Reebok last season. Rosler has not been afraid to give new loanees Nicky Maynard, Josh McEachran and Martyn Waghorn playing time. He could not include new signing Markus Holgersson in the squad for yesterday’s match because of illness.

There are fans who are less than impressed with Rosler’s signings and foresee the departure of more Martinez men in summer. They are not convinced that Rosler is making a serious push for promotion, not having brought in a high profile central striker during the transfer window. Latics just cannot convert enough chances into goals. Maynard is still trying to get back to fitness after a serious knee injury. Waghorn is being released by rivals Leicester when his contract expires in summer. Neither seems to fit the bill. These fans foresee losing technically gifted players from the Martinez era and them being replaced by players of inferior technique, with little or no Premier League experience.  Many of the players brought in by Owen Coyle are not good enough for the Premier League, but will be staying.

Rosler fans say he is looking for players with the right attitude who will fit into his style of play. Too many of the Martinez men did not have the right attitude and the struggles they went through in the Premier League left them with a losers mentality. Rosler is initially signing players on loan, but with a view towards signing them permanently if they fit the part. Too many times over the years the club paid big money for players who were not to succeed. The high tempo style that Rosler has in mind is very appealing. Seeing Brentford currently topping League 1 is a testament to the firm foundation the German left behind there.

Rosler is clearly hedging his bets. When he arrived at Wigan the club was in the lower part of the league table with a record of W6 D4 L8. They are now sitting in mid-table, having won more matches than they have lost. Like Coyle he has had to deal with fixture congestion and has regularly rotated his squad. He is not afraid to try different tactical formations and require the players to adjust accordingly. More than anything else he has eschewed the long-ball tactics of his predecessor and brought the concept of good football back to Wigan.

Rosler will be hoping that Latics can gradually ease their way into a play-off spot, knowing that time is tight and it is going to be difficult for his new players to settle in to the club and his style of play in a short period. If he does succeed in winning promotion this season he will be in a position to persuade players whose contracts are at an end, to stay on at the club with Premier League salaries. Moreover he can consider offering permanent contracts to loanees who have impressed.

If promotion does not happen this season Rosler will have nevertheless instilled a style of play upon those who remain after a considerable summer exodus. Prized assets will be sold off, but with Dave Whelan’s support, the funds will be reinvested into bargain buys.

Rosler is certainly looking at a return to the Premier League for Wigan Athletic. The question is whether it will be this season or the next.

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Wigan Athletic 0 Swansea City 2: Martinez under pressure as former club out-Roberto’s him

Dark days at the DW as Roberto Martinez’s Wigan were outdone by a side he assembled and styled, but couldn’t break down. It was a painful, if strangely comforting realization that while Swansea are currently much better at executing the Spaniard’s footballing vision, at least they are living proof that it can actually work.

This fixture had been seen by most Latics supporters as a must-win — indeed three points would have boosted the side out of the relegation zone. It was one of three winnable fixtures before the terrifying weeks ahead involving trips to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, the Emirates, and the visit of Manchester United. Swansea, while a respectable side, had a poor away record, and we had deserved to win the reverse fixture. The mood before kickoff was optimistic.

Of course, it all went wrong. Martinez’s team selection has been criticized by just about everyone including Dave Whelan, who took issue with the absence of “three quality players” in the starting lineup — presumably Mo Diame, Hugo Rodallega and Victor Moses. The manager has since attributed their omissions to the effects of travel from the international break, with one player arriving late Friday night ahead of the Saturday afternoon kickoff. While this was true of Diame and Moses, both in Africa on international duty, it was not so of Hugo Rodallega, who has long lost his place in the Colombian national squad.

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Conor Sammon at centre-forward, while Franco Di Santo would take over the free role traditionally reserved for Victor Moses. The pair delivered their weakest performances for the club, with Sammon making a mess of the single promising breakaway he was involved in and Di Santo completely lost in a position he was clearly not familiar with. Jean Beausejour was again lively in the first half, but neither Sammon nor Di Santo ever looked like tucking away his crosses. Emmerson Boyce went closest with a far post header.

Swansea had threatened on several occasions, with Ali Al-Habsi looking sharp and Gary Caldwell clearing off the line. They got their reward just before half-time, when Gylfi Sigurdsson was allowed to take two touches before curling an excellent shot past Al-Habsi from outside the box.

Martinez made two half-time changes, introducing Victor Moses and Mo Diame for James McArthur and Conor Sammon — almost to immediate effect. But just as a Latics equalizer looked possible, Sigurdsson struck again — this time from a direct free-kick. His two strikes were the kind of quality Latics have lacked this season that Charles N’Zogbia provided last time around. Jordi Gomez, one of the few in the side capable of shooting like that, has simply not done it.

He did, however, get himself fouled and Nathan Dyer received a red card to give Latics some hope. Hugo Rodallega’s introduction added a bit of movement to the attack moments later, but Michel Vorm was excellent and Wigan’s finishing was uninspired.

The Good:

Not much. Beausejour’s first half (his second was poor). Sustained pressure and a series of half chances in the second half. Rodallega when he came on.

The Bad:

This is a troublesome result. We can still survive, results elsewhere have been kind. But the club needs points urgently. If we fail to get at least 4 points from the next two matches, we could be cut adrift going into the final stretch. Roberto is hosting a Q&A with fans as I type. He needs to regain their support, and motivate his team for the crucial next two matches.

A Neutral Would Say

Latics improved dramatically with the introductions of Moses, Diame and Rodallega. But the finishing was poor. Swansea deserved the points.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 7 —  Takes some blame for the second goal, but was otherwise outstanding, making a number of crucial saves.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Not at fault for the goals.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Was enjoying a decent performance with a couple key tackles/clearances. And then the goals flew in.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Struggled with Dyer. Ironically one of Latics best attacking players when he got forward — delivered two of the best crosses all match.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Did not contribute much going forward, and had trouble with Sinclair.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Very good in first half, poor in second. It is becoming a pattern for him — lack of match fitness?

James McArthur: 6 — Worked hard but lost the midfield battle in the first half. Substituted in second.

James McCarthy: 6 — See James McArthur for first half. A bit more possession in second but no cutting edge.

Jordi Gomez: 5 — Did not produce.

Franco Di Santo: 5 — Looked lost and finished poorly, his weakest performance in some time.

Conor Sammon: 4 — Like a fish out of water.

Subs:

Hugo Rodallega: 7 — Looked far more likely to score when he came on than anyone else.

Mo Diame: 6 — His finishing was poor, but good attacking intent and skill to create openings.

Victor Moses: 6 — Bright start that faded after Swansea’s second, and the sending off.

Wigan Athletic 0 Aston Villa 0: A point earned or two points lost?

Wigan Athletic’s second 0-0 of the season, in what was probably the most predictable result on the fixture list, seems to be sparking far more debate than the rather more colourful affairs we’ve graced. Was this a missed opportunity after another frustrating display of poor attacking play, or should we be grateful for the point, the clean sheet and move on?

The match itself was not one for the neutral. Latics controlled possession, passing commendably despite a torn up pitch (thanks rugby), but didn’t create anything of note. Villa waited patiently, breaking dangerously through Robbie Keane and Darren Bent, but found Al-Habsi at his best. Jean Beausejour’s contribution down the left has resulted in an increased volume of crosses, but there remains no one with the striking instincts, or heading ability, to meet them. Wigan logged 14 corners without coming close to scoring from them. Is Lee McCulloch available?

Victor Moses’ head was sadly stuck firmly in the “down” position, at one point failing to realize there was no one was within 30 yards of him before booting in a cross down the right wing. Hugo Rodallega came on and was immediately involved in Latics’ two best chances — the first, a neat turn and decent left-footed curler that sailed over the bar; the second a difficult half volley after Victor Moses appeared to have been felled in the penalty area. For all Franco Di Santo’s exemplary running around and skill on the ball, he never seems to get himself into these types of situations.

Aston Villa delivered a classic Alex McLeish performance, collecting yellow cards for cynical fouls and hoping for a piece of magic from one of their talented front men, or a lucky bounce from a set piece. Latics may yet go down but at least we don’t have to watch that sort of muck.

Despite seven minutes of injury-time — as a result of Darren Bent’s injury and the Gods of football plea for a goal — it ended 0-0.

The Good:

Our third clean sheet of the season. Gary Caldwell, Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa all had excellent games. Despite being a virtual spectator in the second half, Ali Al-Habsi made two fantastic saves in the opening 15 minutes that eventually earned the side a point. A lot of credit for the recent defensive improvement must also go to James McArthur, who put in another inspirational shift of effort and graft in midfield. It was a sign of how highly his contribution is valued that Roberto opted to keep him on the pitch, instead asking James McCarthy to make way for Mo Diame in the second half. Jean Beausejour deserves a mention for his increasingly influential performances down the left. Before his arrival, Latics were depending on Ronnie Stam’s crosses from the right. While many of us would like to see them both on the pitch, it has to be said that Emmerson Boyce’s inclusion has also contributed to Latics’ best defensive performances of the season of late.

The Bad:

The final third of the pitch. Jordi Gomez and Victor Moses, the men charged with creating chances, had bad games. Jordi wasn’t noticeably bad, he just wasn’t very noticeable. Which is bad. Victor Moses was involved in Latics’ most promising play but was again let down by hesitancy or that frustrating final pass. Jordi enjoyed a fantastic run of form over the Christmas period, while Moses is up and down. We need one of them to deliver in games like this. It’s the type of game that Charles N’Zogbia might have won for us last year. A Jordi free-kick or a bit of Moses magic is due. Incidentally, the aforementioned N’Zogbia spent most of the afternoon on the Villa bench. What a waste.

Two points lost or a point gained?

While it does heap pressure on the next fixture, I don’t see this draw as a big problem. Of the next three, Latics probably need 6 points: Swansea (h), Norwich (a), and WBA (h). Results elsewhere this weekend were favourable. Most encouraging was QPR’s loss to Fulham. QPR still face the league’s top six clubs in their remaining 12 games. Blackburn and Bolton both lost to strong opposition, but a more important loss to Blackburn came in the form of Christopher Samba’s transfer to Russia — an important player and leader for them. Wolves may have gotten a point at Newcastle but failed to appoint a new manager of any pedigree, and still look in deep trouble. Latics’ next match against Swansea is pivotal. If we fail to win that one, we are going to be in need of points at places like Anfield or Stamford Bridge, not a situation we want to put ourselves in. We hit the post three times last time we played Swansea. A bit of luck this time could see us out of the bottom three.

A Neutral Would Say

Villa had a couple chances but were an eyesore. Latics deserved a goal for all their possession, corners, and pressure.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 8 —  Didn’t have much to do, but kept things even with two excellent first half saves.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Looking very strong in recent matches.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — Excellent performance again from the captain.

Maynor Figueroa: 7.5 — Doesn’t get a lot of credit for it, but makes a lot of headed clearances. Neither Caldwell or Alcaraz are particularly tall as far as centre-halves go, his height is important.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — A wonderful moment for Boycey after he broke the club’s record for Premier League appearances (146), previously held by Paul Scharner. But it was one of his weaker performances, it looked like his legs were failing him. He did make one crucial second half tackle to block a Robbie Keane shot, however. While Ronnie Stam offers a more exciting option at right wing-back — and certainly a fantastic option from the subs bench — Boyce’s experience, defensive solidity, and occasional burst forward might make him a safer bet in the starting lineup for the run-in.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Neat in possession, the Chilean played some nice balls into the box, and didn’t shy away from his defensive work either.

James McArthur: 8 — Great tackling, simple distribution, he is becoming a leader by example.

James McCarthy: 7 — Similar to James McArthur, but has more to offer offensively.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Not creating enough.

Victor Moses: 6 — Needs to be more decisive when he’s in the box with a shooting opportunity. And more thoughtful when he’s outside the box, looking for a teammate.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Did his job well, worked very hard, but wasn’t really anywhere near the score sheet.

Subs:

Hugo Rodallega: 7 — Immediately involved in Latics best chances. A neat turn and left-footed shot, following by a half volley after Moses went down in the penalty area.

Mo Diame: N/A — Would like to see him back in the starting lineup against Swansea.

Albert Crusat: N/A — Came on late.

Bolton 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Vital win kickstarts revival

Wigan Athletic took a giant step towards revival (and survival?) with a 2-1 success over Bolton at the Reebok Stadium. A loss would have cut Latics eight points adrift and delivered a probably fatal blow to the side’s morale. Instead, the gap between the bottom five has been narrowed to an encouraging two points. Better still, the squad has a tasty fixture list coming up including three home fixtures against Aston Villa, Swansea and West Brom, with a trip to Norwich in between. Without getting ahead of ourselves, things are suddenly looking up at the DW.

Martinez’s men started slowly but started to take control of the match about 20 minutes in. Franco Di Santo, working hard up front with little service, received the ball deep and weaved before fizzing a powerful attempt just over and wide. Victor Moses embarked on a mazy trademark run, crashing a left-footed effort into the side netting (a trademark finish). Bolton’s approaches were largely limited to set pieces and hopeful shooting from outside the box, while Latics enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession. Pressure finally told when Gary Caldwell impressively beat David Wheater — who must have at least 5 inches on the Scot — in the air to power home a Jean Beausejour corner late in the first half. 1-0 Wigan at half-time.

The second half started in much the same vein, with Latics closer to a second than Bolton to an equalizer. A couple of penalty shouts that Howard Webb would have awarded Man United without second thought went unnoticed before Victor Moses spectacularly lost his man down the right flank and delivered the perfect final pass for James McArthur, who could only tap straight into Bolton’s Hungarian keeper’s arms. It was the kind of killer pass that Moses has so often been unable to pick out this season, instead going for glory himself or hesitating at the last second. Roberto spoke about the work they are doing with him on the training ground to address these situations in particular, lets hope it is a sign of things to come.

It was soon deja vu, and with the chance to go 2-0 up spurned, Bolton pull an equalizer out of a hat. The buildup was classic Bolton stuff — a mighty hoof from Adam Bogdan bouncing off the unwitting David N’gog’s back. But the finish was sublime, a left-footed thunderbolt from the underrated Mark Davies. James McArthur later expressed his relief at scoring the winner because Davies was his man. But there was little he could do on this one, and it spoke volumes of Jimmy Mac’s performance that he kept Davies quiet for the rest of the match.

The response was immediate. Latics went for it. With Rodallega now on the pitch, you could see a wave of Latics players pushing forward when Victor Moses broke free on the left and ran through unopposed. His low shot had enough power for the carrot-haired Bogdan to spill it straight into the path of the sprinting James McArthur. This time, the Scot made no mistake and you could see what it meant to the players as they celebrated in front of Latics’ traveling support.

There was a final scare when the impressive Ryo Miyaichi found space in the box after neat interplay and fired off a shot, but Ali Al-Habsi was at his best to deny him a debut goal. Latics created a couple half chances on the counter, but a confused-looking Rodallega made a mess of them. Latics’ defending was steady, on set pieces in particular — enjoying the extra height and defensive nous of Emmerson Boyce at right wing-back, in addition to the three centre-halves — and they held on for three points of gold.

The Good:

The performance and result. They dominated, passed the ball well, Victor Moses created at least three goal-scoring opportunities from open play, and the defending was strong. The commitment and desire matched that of Latics’ spectacular season run-in last year. McCarthy and McArthur were lions in midfield, everyone played their part in a good team win.

The Bad:

The game should have been killed off well before Bolton’s equalizer, and it highlights Latics continued lack of confidence in front of goal. A better team — like Everton a week prior — might have punished Latics’ wastefulness. Jordi Gomez, there to provide that killer pass, was unable to create anything of note. Aside from Moses, the best chances of the game fell to Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur, hardly known for their finishing.

A Neutral Would Say

Latics were good value for the three points here, with Victor Moses in particular proving a headache for a lacklustre Bolton side.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 8 —  Didn’t have much to do, but made a match-winning save when called upon.

Antolin Alcaraz: 7 — Solid, kept it simple.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — Defended strongly and made the important breakthrough when Latics were struggling to find a way through.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Decent defensive performance.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — A good choice by Martinez for a game of such importance. Provides less going forward than Ronnie Stam, but made an important contribution.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Faded in the second half, but added another assist to his tally and was involved in much Latics attacking play in the first half. Proving a useful signing.

James McArthur: 8 — A selfless team player, he tackled well, distributed efficiently, and must have covered every blade of grass at the Reebok. The winning goal was great reward for his efforts. Has less in his arsenal than both Mo Diame and Ben Watson offensively but makes up for it in attitude. Very encouraging to see a midfielder busting a gut to get into goalscoring positions as he did twice in this match.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Showed one moment of true class with a sharp half volley pass to Jean Beausejour in the first half. Fantastic work-rate, good distribution.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Instrumental in keeping possession but ultimately didn’t create enough.

Victor Moses: 8 — Bolton couldn’t handle him. A constant menace, he created the winning goal and should have had an assist after serving it up on a platter for McArthur early in the second half.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Did his job well, had a great effort from distance, but no real scoring chances.

Subs:

Hugo Rodallega: 4 — Didn’t know what day it was. Looked confused when given the ball. A shame, because he found himself in good positions and might have killed the game off.

Dave Jones: N/A — Wasted 45 seconds coming on for Di Santo, good man.

Wigan Athletic 1 Sunderland 4: Scoreline deceives as Black Cats punish Latics

We felt in our match preview that this was a tough time to play Sunderland, a revitalized side brimming with confidence after claiming Manchester City’s scalp on the weekend. Rarely will you see two strikes as sublime as those of Craig Gardner and James Vaughn in the same 90 minutes, and indeed it seemed everything went Sunderland’s way. But the scoreline, and headlines in most of today’s publications, paint a very false picture of a match Wigan had the better of, and should have put to bed before crucial decisions turned it upside down.

The first half was all Wigan — almost. Roberto turned a few heads with his stating lineup, resting the key duo of Victor Moses and Mohammed Diame; Albert Crusat and Ben Watson starting in their stead. The 3-4-2-1 formation that has yielded Latics best results this season was left intact. Steve Gohouri took Gary Caldwell’s position at the centre of the back three, while Dave Jones and Ronnie Stam continued as advanced wing-backs, protected by the mostly defensive central midfield pairing of James McCarthy and Ben Watson. Ahead of them, Crusat started inside left, Jordi inside right, and Rodallega up top — though such is the fluidity of this system that Jordi’s was more of a free-role, popping up left, right and center, with Ronnie Stam constantly overlapping him on the right wing.

It didn’t take long for Latics to carve out an opening, as Crusat sped down the left wing, crossing dangerously for Rodallega, narrowly beaten to the ball by John O’Shea. The passing and movement of the opening 20 minutes was hugely promising — possession at one point was 70% Wigan — although Antolin Alcaraz and Steve Gohouri foreshadowed the shambles of the second half with some risky misplaced passes around the penalty area.

Dave Jones was having his best game at left wing-back, and soon found himself in the box after fantastic interplay with Albert Crusat and Jordi Gomez. His left-footed shot beat Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet, cannoned back to Ronnie Stam, who laid it off with class for Ben Watson. The midfielder lunged with his right foot striking the other post before Sunderland defenders scrambled the ball clear.

The bad luck would continue, with Albert Crusat limping off two thirds of the way through the second half after a neat and effective display. It appeared he had taken a knee to the ribs, but reports say the injury was actually to his back. He was struggling to breathe before his substitution. Here’s for a speedy recovery as he has impressed on his displays thus far.

Victor Moses replaced him and minutes later, Jones again created space for himself in the box, this time shooting for the near post. It produced the save of the game from Mignolet, who not only blocked the shot with a steel hand but recovered in time to deny the lurking Maynor Figueroa.

It looked a matter of time until Latics opened the scoring amid the swirling rain and wind, but then came a series of unfortunate refereeing decisions. First, the fourth official signaled for five minutes of injury time — a bit excessive despite earlier knocks to Bendtner, Cattermole, in addition to Crusat. Mike Dean then failed to award Latics a corner after Antolin Alcaraz’ heavily deflected shot ran past the touchline. So obvious was the corner that Simon Mignolet sprinted off his line and dove to try and divert the ball for a throw-in. Moments later, at the other end, Nicklas Bendtner went down surrounded by Latics players — probably hoping to run the remaining minute of time down — and was awarded a free-kick. Replays would show there was no foul, but Craig Gardner would take full advantage to score the most beautiful free-kick you are likely to see this season. In the sixth minute of injury time.

To say it knocked the stuffing out of Wigan would be an understatement. Latics went in search of an equalizer in the second half but found Sunderland’s defense as resolute as Man City did days earlier. James McLean, a former Latics transfer target last season who had looked dangerous all match, popped up with a headed second before Martinez threw on Conor Sammon for Ronnie Stam. The shape changed to something of a 3-4-3-1, with Rodallega and Moses out on the wings, Jordi floating, and Sammon as target. And it was one of Rodallega’s energetic runs cutting in from the left that resulted in a deflected goal for the Colombian. At 2-1 down and the crowd back in the game, it looked like Latics had the momentum to go on and equalize, perhaps win.

But things would get worse. Maynor Figueroa appeared to be tugged by Bendtner and stopped playing as the Dane continued his run down the right wing, feeding Sessegnon for the goal that killed the game. If it was a foul, it was another awful refereeing decision just as Latics were regaining momentum. If it was not a foul, Figueroa made a terrible mistake as he might have blocked the ensuing cross had he not stopped in his tracks. Camera angles on the replay were not tight enough to draw conclusions.

By the time the fourth went in, Latics’ back three were a mess. Gary Caldwell’s presence and leadership was clearly missed, and many will be hoping Emmerson Boyce is restored to the starting lineup in Gohouri’s stead for the next two games. That said, they were isolated, playing in torrential conditions, and everything Sunderland seemed to attempt was working. When a shot was frantically blocked at the top of the box, James Vaughn unleashed a thunderbolt of a strike that none of us — Ali Al-Habsi included — saw until the replay slowed it down for us. Sunderland won’t score two goals like his or Gardner’s again this season.

It’s worth mentioning that Latics did have chances to equalize and reduce the deficit, but lacked a killer edge. The game swung on two passages of play — the Jones-Watson double-post, and the series of events leading to Sunderland’s first goal.

Opinion

It is hard to take yet another match in which unfavourable refereeing heavily influenced the outcome. Add this latest disappointment to the treatment at Old Trafford, the points lost to Blackburn as a result of Gamst Pedersen’s illegal corner, a fixture list featuring all three newly promoted sides in the first three matches of the season and the traditional big four in a row over the Christmas period — and it really does appear a concerted effort to make sure little Wigan finally get relegated to make way for a more profitable team. Phil Dowd and Mike Dean are two of the league’s most experienced referees. Andre Marriner is no longer a rookie. Why are they making these sort of mistakes? Sure, our defense eventually fell apart, but anyone watching the match up until the first goal — which should not have stood — would have told you that Latics looked destined to win this match until that free-kick was given.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 6.5 —  Not to blame for any of the goals.

Steve Gohouri: 5.5 — Almost gave away a goal in the first half. Didn’t make any glaring mistakes but his nerves had a negative effect on the other two centre-backs, who had been playing very well in recent times.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Put the defense under pressure repeatedly with misplaced passes.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Had a decent first half, but stopped playing altogether in the buildup to the third goal, which was really the nail in the coffin. Was he fouled?

Ronnie Stam: 7 — Had a very good first half, making overlapping runs down the right wing. His deliveries were top quality — we could use more attacking players who can head the ball. Also had the coolness to lay the ball off to Watson for what was almost Latics first goal.

David Jones: 7 — His best attacking display, particularly in the first half, where his intelligent passing and interplay with Crusat and Gomez led to Latics two best chances. Unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. Unfortunately, he got caught in possession in the buildup to the second goal.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — He is becoming a quality defensive midfielder. His energy levels are great, he rarely gives the ball away. I personally miss the quality of his attacking play, but it was his midfield for most of the match.

Ben Watson: 6.5 — Showed his class and technique with some lovely cross-field balls, very unlucky to hit the post.

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Was at the heart of Latics best attacking work, but grew frustrated — the conditions didn’t help.

Albert Crusat: 7 — Quick, neat passer of the ball, had a good first half before being substituted for injury.

Hugo Rodallega: 7 — No clear chances, but got a deflected goal and caused problems for the Sunderland defense. More likely to score than Conor Sammon or Franco Di Santo.

Subs:

Victor Moses: 7 — Called into action earlier than expected, started where Crusat left off proving a handful. But Sunderland had too many men behind the ball.

Conor Sammon: 6 — Again all effort but no end product.