Late heartbreak for classy Latics

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A very strong Wigan Athletic performance lacking only a goal ended in misery as a Carlos Tevez wonderstrike settled the affair with five minutes to go.

Wigan had been outstanding all over the pitch but more than once found themselves thwarted by excellent goalkeeping and defending at the crucial moment.

It is a cruel blow, but if ever a defeat could offer encouragement, this would be a good one to watch. For large periods of the match, Wigan out-passed and out-classed the defending champions on their own patch and deserved at least a point for their efforts.

Any concerns about the FA Cup being a distraction from league survival were put to bed in the first half, as Latics had earned two corners inside the first three minutes. Having reverted to the wingback formation with Franco Di Santo pairing Arouna Koné up front instead of a traditional right winger in Callum McManaman, Wigan enjoyed as much possession as their counterparts and without a doubt fashioned the best scoring opportunities. Di Santo was involved in two of them, first cutting his pass too far behind the on-rushing Koné, and then doing exceptionally well from a Shaun Maloney flick only to be sensationally stopped by Manchester City keeper Joe Hart.

Meanwhile, City were restricted to largely hopeful crossing although Paul Scharner’s struggles with Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez foreshadowed trouble. The midfield duo of James McCarthy and Jordi Gomez were neat and incisive and continued to fine tune their blossoming partnership. All in all, things were going very well indeed, though you got the feeling the missed opportunities would eventually prove costly.

The second half continued in much the same vein with a Maloney shot cleared off the line, followed by a sensational one-touch move involving Jordi Gomez, Maloney, Di Santo and Kone foiled by Vincent Kompany at the last second. City grew into the game as time went on, but Wigan threatened on the break and good running by McManaman — on for the injured Di Santo — could have done with a more assertive finish.

The Good:

This was a team performance reminiscent of the golden run-in last year, on the defending champions’ home patch. The midfield was outstanding, the forward play was strong and positive, and the defending, save for Scharner who struggled throughout, was top class.

The Bad:

An opportunity lost, given the level of performance and chances squandered. Di Santo generally looked sharp and hungry but was unable to take his chance. A difficult loss to swallow.

Player Ratings:

Joel Robles: 7 — Not much to do in first half, but made a couple very good saves in the second — one from Edin Dzeko in particular.

Paul Scharner: 5 — Had a hard time. Got beaten in one-on-ones, notably in the build-up to the goal, and gave away possession on several occasions.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Commanding, with some intelligent and controlled slide tackling.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Good shift from the Honduran despite making a mess of a very promising breakaway in the second half with an overhit pass.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Worked very hard defensively and had to cover for Scharner more than once.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — Though his crosses were not finished off, he got forward frequently and played a number of them, some very tasty indeed. Also disciplined in defensive duties.

James McCarthy: 9 — Dominant in midfield, he grew as the match went on. Complete performance.

Jordi Gomez: 8 — Looking ever more comfortable in the holding role with some good positive passing and good break-up play. Showing more urgency and forward passing in recent weeks, which is great to see.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Another excellent performer, denied on the line with a curling effort in the first half, and should have been on the assist sheet with a clever flick for Di Santo in the first. Was a pest all night darting, weaving and threading passes.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — What a shame he couldn’t tuck that one away. Did extremely well to shrug off his defenders but telegraphed it. Still, it was an excellent save by Hart and the Argentine had a good game. Lets hope the injury is minor.

Arouna Koné: 8 — Confident and strong target man play, he was in the right place at the right time more than once only for City’s excellent defenders to make last ditch tackles.

Subs:

McManaman: Looked confident when he came on and quickly created a good shooting opportunity, but failed to trouble Hart.

McArthur: Came on right after the goal and didn’t have enough time to affect the game.

Espinoza: A late sub.

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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.

Tables turned as Latics pinch a point

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A familiar scenario was reversed at the DW this afternoon, as an unfancied relegation-threatened side impressed its audience with a thoroughly dominant and cultured performance, only to be robbed of three points by two goals from set pieces.

Wigan Athletic, so often outdone by slack defending from set pieces after dominating proceedings, saw the tables turned and were fortunate to emerge with a point — which will only seem disappointing to those who didn’t watch the match. Mauricio Pochettino’s high-pressing game denied Latics their usual midfield comforts and limited them to four or five efforts on goal in the 93 minutes played. Southampton’s second half performance at Manchester United in midweek during which Sir Alex Ferguson’s men could hardly get the ball no longer seems a fluke. Despite a midfield-heavy lineup, Latics just couldn’t get a grip on the game.

The Good:

Paul Scharner was one of the best, if not Wigan’s man of the match, on his return. It might have been a lot worse without his aerial presence and timely clearances. He never was the most technically gifted player, but a talented, tall and quick — if reluctant —  defender. He looks fit as ever despite limited minutes in Hamburg and slotted into the back three perfectly. When the chips are down, you need players with self-belief who are willing to take a chance, and it was the Austrian’s hopeful effort that landed at Maloney’s feet for the equaliser. It was telling that Ronnie Stam was substituted shortly after making a mess of a Scharner pass.  The Austrian had expertly intercepted a cross and played the ball out, only for the Dutchman’s poor control to put the Latics back in trouble. Scharner’s less-than-pleased reaction must only have expedited Roberto Martinez’s plan to get Stam off the pitch.

The result is a positive, given the circumstances. While most Wigan supporters had thought of the fixture as a must-win, the fact that Southampton remain only three points, and not six, ahead of Latics is hugely important. Their form is likely to dip after the new manager boost, and as Martinez said in his post-match comments it was a point gained.

To see Wigan score two goals from set pieces or hopeful crosses was a bit strange but a big plus. The team also benefited from Scharner’s height on set pieces — with Boyce restored to the right wingback role this will only improve.

The Bad:

It’s hard to gauge if Latics were really poor or if Southampton were just excellent. The Saints’ fitness levels were certainly impressive — perhaps the result of a training week in higher temperatures in Barcelona. Manchester United couldn’t handle them and were very lucky during Wednesday’s second half.

James McCarthy stands out as someone we expect more from. After his late autumn brace and press coverage, he was targeted and subsequently injured against Norwich — his form has suffered ever since. This is not to say the player has been poor in any way — but it is clear to those of us watching that he could dominate, and yet he reduces himself to simple five yard passing. You can’t fault his effort or technique, only his belief. If you gave McCarthy Scharner’s positivity and self-belief, you might have the next Steven Gerrard.

Roger Espinoza had a rough go of it after such an encouraging second half at Stoke. Ronnie Stam unfortunately showed once again this season that his attacking play is not good enough to make up for his poor defending. The substitutes had no effect — Henriquez excepted who did well in his three minutes. While largely down to injuries, Wigan’s bench was thin and there wasn’t a player on the bench that you felt could really make a difference. Compare it to having Rodallega and Diame available in the last half hour this time last year. Callum McManaman showed again that he is quick and 100%, but neither fast or composed. Jordi Gomez was sent on to try and regain possession but couldn’t do it.

The league table is worrying. Reading are in good form. Southampton clearly are. QPR may not have won but have signed half a team as usual and will only improve. Villa — the best bet at the moment — scored three goals at Goodison Park but at least dropped two points in the last minute of injury time. It’s time to start getting results.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Not to blame for the goals, made a couple decent reaction saves.

Paul Scharner: 7 — Very good. An excellent loan signing, a positive influence and stop-gap. Inspired confidence and will lend some much-needed experience.

Gary Caldwell: 7 — Was out-jumped in the build-up to the equaliser. Scharner sprinted across anticipating it when he probably should have stayed on his mark. If Caldwell were a few inches taller he would be at a top club. He otherwise had an excellent game making a large number of crucial blocks and interceptions, not to mention his exceptionally well taken headed goal and some exquisite passing. Unfortunately, the midfield ahead of his was totally overrun, but his good form bodes well.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Difficult to assess. He made some very good tackles and was probably Latics busiest player in the second half, but got beaten very easily a few times as well.

Ronnie Stam: 5 — Not good enough at present. Is capable of good attacking play, but is a defensive liability. Remarkable turnaround excepted, Martinez’s attempt to sign John Stones was confirmation that Stam will leave this summer.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — His best game for some time. Would receive an 8 for a brilliant first half during which he played several top-class crosses — one of which Franco Di Santo almost scored from — and was generally composed and effective. Has started all but one league match for Martinez since joining just over a year ago and looked refreshed after being substituted early against Stoke. Disappeared in the second half however. Once again, the opposing manager neutralized Wigan’s main attacking threat by making sure the Chilean was kept busy defensively.

James McCarthy: 5 — His error led to the second goal. McCarthy is difficult to grade — his potential is so huge it is disappointing to see him underperform. If he underperforms, the team does.

James McArthur: 6 — Persevered and showed quick thinking and passing, but wasn’t given the chance to get forward as he did in a fantastic display at Stoke.

Roger Espinoza: 5 — After a game of two halves at Stoke — wobbly and excellent — he struggled in this one. As supporters, we need to be patient as he adapts to the pace and physicality of the Premier League. He was involved, but largely outmuscled and ineffective. Still, a promising signing.

Shaun Maloney: 7 — As has been the case for several months, he was a class above his teammates and the bravest of Wigan’s attacking players. Very close to creating the opening in the first half, he finally got his goal in the second despite a complete lack of support. Setting an example by recently signing a new contract, he celebrated his goal by emphasizing the importance of his club’s shirt.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Perhaps not everyone’s grade, but the Argentina striker put in a near perfect target man performance, receiving and holding the ball under duress, with very little support. His effort from Beausejour’s cross in the first half was excellent — a goal would have been just reward for a man not only doing the hard work alone up front but constantly chasing back to win the ball for his teammates. He has scored two from four since being deployed in the advanced striker role largely reserved for Arouna Kone this season, a good strike rate better than his teammate, and has been unlucky it’s not been more.

Subs:

Jordi Gomez: Plays well when the team has possession of the ball. Sent on to try and help the team regain it — wasn’t able to do so in this match but didn’t play poorly either.

Callum McManaman: It’s always pleasing to see him come on. Works hard, has skill and is clearly quick though not fast. The jury is still out on him at this level. He played some positive balls forward but his failed lunge in the build-up to Southampton’s second goal gave the winger the confidence to play such a thoughtful cross in. A more experienced player would have stayed stayed with him long enough to make him rush a cross, or would have earned a yellow card for the team stopping him. In his defence, he is being played in a different position every week, for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes at a time. I would love to see him given a starting opportunity behind Di Santo and imagine it would do wonders for his confidence and development. It

Fulham 1 Wigan Athletic 1: Di Santo redeems himself

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A game of two halves for Franco Di Santo. Prior to this match, the Argentinian had not scored a goal since the beginning of October. The way he played in the first half reflected as much. In the first five minutes he somehow managed not to hit the net from two yards out, the ball trickling from his boot to the goalkeeper following a lovely move involving James McCarthy and Shaun Maloney. Even his usually excellent approach play wasn’t quite up to his usual standards as frustration set in. Shortly before half time, a neat backheel from James McArthur led to Emmerson Boyce putting over a great cross that a more accomplished Premier League striker would have poached — Di Santo put it over.

Roberto Martinez had gone into it with a conservative line-up. He packed the centre of midfield with David Jones, James McArthur and James McCarthy, while Shaun Maloney was employed in the second striker role. Fulham had strangely started without a recognized holding player to compete for midfield possession.  After Fulham had taken the lead in the 22nd minute with a spectacular goal from Giorgos Karagounis it looked like Wigan had a hill to climb and their lack of cutting edge was cause for concern. Neat approach play is to no avail without clinical finishing.

As the second half progressed the need for another forward became even more apparent. However,  in the 66th minute Jordi Gomez was brought on for David Jones.  Wigan reverted to a straight back four, with Gomez and Beausejour pushed into wide midfield positions. Although the move resulted in Wigan having two players in wide positions who do not have the speed to get past opposing full backs, the change of shape galvanised their play.The chief beneficiary was Shaun Maloney, who dropped deeper into the playmaker role, and dictated Latics’ attacking play from that moment on. Di Santo and his teammates  improved and the revived Argentinian went near with a quickfire volley before scoring a gem of an equalizer in the 71st minute. His confidence restored, he went close to a winner minutes later.

After a horrible injury to Ivan Ramis in the closing minutes Wigan fell apart and it was only an amazing goal line clearance from Maynor Figueroa that stopped them losing a match they had deserved to win.

The Good

A valuable point gained at a ground where Latics struggled so much in the past. The defence was disciplined and alert.  Wigan played skillful football and created chances. The reemergence of Franco Di Santo from the doldrums bodes well in the absence of the accomplished Arouna Kone. Wigan played with spirit and the result will help boost morale, following a poor run of results.

The Bad

Wigan’s cruel luck continues with a bad ligament injury to Ivan Ramis, who had done so much to neutralise the threat of Dmitar Berbatov.  Wigan had the better share of clear scoring opportunities and could have brought home three  points rather than one.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 6 – a quiet afternoon.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 – very solid in defence, reading the game well, using his considerable experience.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – played the major part in keeping Berbatov at bay. Solid in defence and possibly a big loss for the rest of the season. Let’s hope not.

Gary Caldwell: 8 – marshalled his defence, excellent in positioning and tackling.

Maynor Figueroa: 7.5 – saved two points with a stunning goal line  clearance. Disciplined and solid  in defence.

Jean Beausejour: 6 – gradually regaining his touch. Worked hard in defence and put in some nice crosses.

James McCarthy: 7 – consistent as ever. Looked classy.

James McArthur: 6 – worked hard, tackled well and put through some nice passes.

David Jones: 6 – hard working,  but  wish his passing would be more incisive.

Shaun Maloney: 7 – much more comfortable in the playmaker role. At the heart of the second half revival.

Franco Di Santo: 6 – a game of two halves , but good to see him back on form in the last half hour.

Substitutes.

Jordi Gomez: – played out of position on the right and had little input on the game as a result.

Ronnie Stam: came very late in the game, but his lapse could have led to a defeat in added time.

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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.