Wigan Athletic 1 Norwich City 0: Bottom half narrows as Kone does it again

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Arouna Koné scored another late goal to settle a poor contest against Norwich on a gusty day in Wigan. The lack of quality on display will be quickly forgotten by Latics fans, however, as a glance at the league table now reveals an amazingly slim six-point gap between 10th and 18th place. Wigan themselves have leapfrogged Aston Villa into 17th, and are now only a point behind Sunderland, three behind Newcastle, and four behind Norwich, Southampton and Stoke. All of which means there is no mid-table security this year.

The match itself was scrappy and characterised by misplaced passing and hopeful shooting from both sides. When Wigan did produce moments of quality, they were always born at the feet of Shaun Maloney and Jean Beausejour, while Norwich caused the occasional problem without looking an incisive threat. The goal came as a result from Wigan’s best passage of play, a period of quick, urgent passing football from minutes 70 to 80, in which they twice went close before Kone’s powerful strike beat Lee Camp at the near post.

The Good:

Another incredibly valuable three points at home. Despite not playing their best football, Martinez’s charges got the job done and kept a clean sheet in the process. Shaun Maloney was just fantastic, once again. Robles looked confident in goal, and Kone is enjoying his role as the main man up front. Jean Beausejour too, looks to be back to his best.

Despite Southampton’s second consecutive win against a big team, other results were positive. Sunderland lost at home to Manchester United, while Reading were thumped 4-1 by Arsenal. Newcastle lost to Manchester City, and Stoke are, at the time of writing, losing to Everton. The bottom half of the table is tight.

The Bad:

Despite laying on a nice pass for Kone to score from, Jordi Gomez put in an infuriating display, constantly slowing down Wigan’s attacks, forcing the team to go backwards rather than forwards, and dwelling on the ball far too long before being dispossessed. James McArthur, excellent upon introduction, may well have done enough to earn his place back into the starting lineup.

Paul Scharner had a wobbly game and did not look quite right. The clean sheet speaks well of the defence as a whole, but the Austrian looked off the pace today. His partnership with Antolin Alcaraz is potentially excellent, but showed signs of its relative youth at times.

Player Ratings: 

Joel Robles: 7 — Didn’t have a lot of shots to save, but showed good hands on crosses, catching the ball when it might have been tempting to punch. Promising.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Steady and uncomplicated.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Made some outstanding tackles and interceptions.

Paul Scharner: 6 –Wobbly at times, but kept them out in the end.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — One sloppy pass aside, did a professional job.

James McCarthy: 7 — His energy and running was important in regaining possession. Very unlucky with an excellent right-footed shot that kissed the upright. One magical nutmeg in the second half that the crowd savoured.

Jordi Gomez: 5 — Poor. Slow and negative with his passing. The one time he sought to play a through ball it was an excellent one and led to the goal. May have been instructed to try and keep possession, but surely not every pass needs to go sideways.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Another outstanding attacking performance with of sharp movement, passing and dribbling. One poor shot, but he was involved in everything positive today including the build-up to the goal.

Callum McManaman:  6 — Quiet game on the right flank, but perhaps that’s what he needed. Occasionally booed by traveling support, but got on with his job and was positive when he did see the ball.

Jean Beausejour: 8 — Played some top class crosses in both halves that should have resulted in goals.

Arouna Kone: 8 — Got the winner, and looked a threat throughout.

Subs:

James McArthur: 7 — Looked hungry when he came on and moved the ball quickly and effectively.

Franco Di Santo: Brought on to waste time in the dying minutes of the game. Probably would have been brought on sooner if Kone had not found the back of the net.

Wigan Athletic 0 Manchester United 4: A match too far for Wigan

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The fixture congestion around the festive season would have been exhausting enough for an injury-hit squad on a bad run of form, but after the exertions against Arsenal and Everton, and a vital away win against Aston Villa, the visit of high-flying Manchester United proved a bit too much for Wigan Athletic.

While Alex Ferguson had the luxury of recalling the fresh and rested duo of Robin Van Persie and Chicharito Hernandez, Roberto Martinez gave Arouna Koné his 20st consecutive appearance this season — every league match since his arrival in August — which will also be his last before jetting off to participate in the African Cup of Nations. To highlight the gulf between the clubs, Koné’s replacement in the squad will be Chilean loanee Angelo Henriquez, an 18-year-old Manchester United striker yet to make an appearance.

The game itself wasn’t much of a spectacle. Wigan had the best of the first half hour, controlling possession, limiting United’s strikers, and occasionally threatening themselves. The game turned sharply after a series of unfortunate events. James McArthur’s wayward headed clearance forced Gary Caldwell to scramble the ball away in haste. The ball ended up with Patrice Evra, who darted into the box, scuffed his shot, only for it to fall into his path for a second pop. Al-Habsi made a fine reflex save but the ball fell at Hernandez’s feet for the decisive goal.

A similarly lucky rebound fell to Hernandez moments later, who fed Van Persie. Ivan Ramis had slipped in the build-up but was then outclassed in what was a delightful finish by the Dutchman.

Wigan’s response in the second half was subdued and the team looked a bit drained until Arouna Koné stabbed in against the run of play, but the goal was ruled offside. It did provide some inspiration, however, and Latics enjoyed a good spell before a poor Van Persie free-kick was deflected into the path of Hernandez yet again, for the Mexican to hammer home.

It would not be a United fixture without a refereeing decision going favourably Ferguson’s way, however. Arouna Koné was hauled down by last man Chris Smalling only to be let off with a yellow card in circumstances that the rule book would have guaranteed a red.

Van Persie finished things off with a tap-in after England international Danny Wellbeck, a late sub, pounced on an error by Jean Beausejour.

The Good: 

Both United fixtures are out of the way, no injuries were sustained, or any red cards. The first half hour was positive, before the goal turned the tide. Maynor Figueroa and Emmerson Boyce had decent games despite some patchy defending around them. There is now a break for the first team as FA Cup play begins against Bournemouth this weekend. It will be interesting to witness possible debuts from Henriquez and Roger Espinoza — and the potential returns from injury of Antolin Alcaraz and Ryo Miyaichi. Callum McManaman and Jordi Gomez both looked sharp in their cameos against United and will also be champing at the bit to make an impression.

The Bad: 

Much like the visit to Old Trafford earlier this season, this was a demoralizing experience. Most losses this season have felt close, but not this one — United were clearly the more potent side . Their strength — ruthless, clinical finishing — has been Wigan’s weakness.

After a clean sheet at Villa Park and the happy return of Ivan Ramis, the defense was wobbly and made mistakes. Ramis himself had a poor game and struggled with the quality of the opposition. Ali Al-Habsi looked nervous throughout. Gary Caldwell was substituted early, possibly as a pre-caution. Beausejour was clearly targeted for his lack of pace, as he was by Arsenal’s Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Conclusions:

Glad to have it out of the way. After Bournemouth, the club faces Fulham away and Sunderland at home. The most intriguing storyline will be how Martinez adapts his lineup to cope with Koné’s absence. Franco Di Santo seems certain to lead the line, but Roberto has numerous options to ponder as to who partners him. Mauro Boselli and Angelo Henriquez will be hoping he opts for a direct swap and two up top. Jordi Gomez and Callum McManaman looked useful and keen and could fit in with a slight tactical adjustment. Or we may see a version of the formation used against Everton, with a three-man midfield — probably David Jones — behind Maloney and Di Santo. Four points would be an excellent return from those two fixtures.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Nervy. In my opinion, not at fault for the first goal.

Ivan Ramis: 5 — Day to forget. Made a couple errors but generally struggled to contain United’s excellent strikers.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Made several important blocks, but also struggled with Chicharito’s acceleration. His substitution allowed the pacier Emmerson Boyce to slot into the defense.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Covered for the mistakes of his teammates and defended well. May find himself in the wing-back role soon, however, with Beausejour looking in need of a break and Alcaraz’s return imminent.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Started at wingback, ended at centre-back. Solid in both roles.

Jean Beausejour: 5 — Has looked off the pace recently. The opposition has become wise to his importance to Martinez’s tactics. United pinned him back with both Ashley Young and Rafael attacking down his side.

James McArthur: 6 — Wigan ended the match with more possession than United, a testament to the Jimmy Macs.

James McCarthy: 6 — See McArthur.

Shaun Maloney: 6 — Quick and sharp, but not incisive on this day.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Played a nice cross for Kone’s offside goal but not much joy otherwise.

Arouna Kone: 6 — Offside for the one half-chance that came his way, then hauled down by Smalling when he should have been one-on-one with De Gea.

Subs: 

Jordi Gomez: Made a difference when he came on, almost scored a spectacular free-kick.

Ronnie Stam: His energy was a plus once again when he came on. If his crossing was consistent he might keep his place.

Callum McManaman: Quick and positive, waiting for chance.

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.

Wigan 2 QPR 2: Frustration setting in

Another opportunity squandered as Latics failed to convert a string of chances to put this game beyond Harry’s energized, but sloppy troops. Wigan were still missing seven senior players against a team with a new manager in desperate circumstances, but frustration is starting to set in as the season shapes closer to another relegation battle than a than a cozy mid-table finish.

The Good:

James McCarthy’s finishing — he was unlucky not to score three — confirmed what we already knew: the lad has everything. Ronnie Stam put in another good display down the right. The team’s response after a poor first half was once again very strong and resulted in an equaliser, although it probably should have resulted in two or three more goals as well.

The Bad:

The result and the scrappy nature of the team’s play at times. The worrying lack of composure from those charged with putting the ball in the back of the net. Koné was poor, and desperately needs a goal. Boselli came on far too late — this game would have suited him as Latics had a lot of possession in the opposition’s box. When Maloney came on, he looked out of place in a left-midfield role instead of around the box where his incision was needed.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Made a couple great saves and could not be blamed for any of the goals.

Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Once again a strong performer on the right of the back three.

Adrian Lopez: 6 — Ryan Nelsen lost his mark for the first goal and a sloppy pass from the Spaniard led to the second. He was very good otherwise, but…

David Jones: 7 — Called upon to fill the left centre-half position and did his best. Got forward occasionally too, deserves credit.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Despite providing the cross for the second goal, this was not one of his stronger performances.

Ronnie Stam: 7.5 — Full of running and endeavour down the right. May be one to keep his place when all the injured players return to the squad.

James McArthur: 6 — Ok on the ball, but not as dominant as usual.

James McCarthy: 9 — Excellent. Drove the team forward in the second half. Capable of scoring regularly — sadly will end up at one of the big clubs if he does.

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Poor first half, faded in and out of second, but looked to be the only attacking player with the composure to score. Latics’ biggest threat and was unlucky to hit the crossbar.

Franco Di Santo: 6.5 — Some good running with the ball, was fouled a lot, but didn’t ever look like scoring.

Arouna Kone: 5 — His touch let him down on numerous occasions, and he failed to get his shot off when through in the second half. Needs a goal.

Subs:

Shaun Maloney: N/A — Brought on in a strange left midfield role and looked a little off the pace. Still, if he made it through without injury setback

Mauro Boselli

1/4 Season Report Card: Al-Habsi, McCarthy & Maloney the top performers

With eleven matches played, we’ve entered the second quarter of the season. This post takes a look at the performances that have earned us a point a game — on track for safety — but left us rueing missed opportunities for more.

The numbers below were calculated by averaging the performance scores we dole out after every match. They are obviously subjective, but provide some insight on the areas of the team that are — at least in the eyes of the writers on this site — performing to, below or beyond expectation. Ali Al-Habsi is perhaps unsurprisingly our stand-out performer, followed by James McCarthy and Shaun Maloney. The strongest area of the pitch was the centre of midfield partnership of James McCarthy and James McArthur, while the weakest was the centre of defence. Only players who have started more than five matches were included.

By Player

Ali Al Habsi: 7.4 — Mostly 7s and 8s, with a 5 on an off-day and a 9 on a particularly excellent afternoon.

Gary Caldwell: 6.45 — Like Ali, has had one standout 9-worthy performance against Spurs, but a few more off-days.

Ivan Ramis: 6.65 — Nightmare debut, but steady improvement since then.

Maynor Figueroa: 6.55 — One of the more consistent performers. Had a bad day at Swansea post-international break, and a good one at Sunderland. Otherwise 6s and 7s.

Emmerson Boyce: 6.45 — Mr. Reliable, with nothing higher than a 7.5 but rarely letting his team down.

Jean Beausejour: 6.78 — Good performances without reaching his best.

James McCarthy: 7.2 — Very good season so far, has been dominant in midfield. Imagine if he adds goals to his game.

James McArthur: 6.78 — Stop-start campaign with injuries, but has been good when available.

Shaun Maloney: 7.05 — Some high numbers, but lack of finishing is probably losing him points. He makes this team tick, but is starting to be identified as the man to mark.

Arouna Kone: 6.75 — Very good average given these have been his first 11 matches in Premier League football, with a new team and surroundings, and no adaptation period.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — A big number for Franco, who has scored some well-taken goals, continued to put in the hard work, and been rewarded with an Argentina call-up.

By Area

Defence (including Al-Habsi): 6.76

Centre of Defence (without Al-Habsi): 6.55 — weakest

Centre of Midfield: 6.99 — strongest

Wingbacks: 6.61

Attack: 6.93