Expecting the unexpected

Wigan - down, but not out.

Wigan Athletic – down, but don’t count them out.

Aston Villa’s amazing 6-1 scoreline against Sunderland last night was certainly unexpected. One single result has lifted the midland club level on points with both Newcastle and Sunderland, only one point behind Norwich who they play on Saturday. Moreover their previously poor record for goal difference has been transformed by the +5 they got last night.

Villa’s win will send shock waves among Wigan Athletic supporters, who were hoping their team could overtake the midlanders. However, Latics are now 5 points behind the pack that Villa have now joined. Things are looking pretty grim.

Around the 85 minute mark of the Tottenham game on Saturday,  I was beginning to believe in my heart that Latics were going to come away with the three  points. Wigan’s second half display was quite superb. A wonderful goal from Callum McManaman had put Latics ahead. Roberto Martinez’ tactics were spot-on and Tottenham just didn’t look like scoring.

However, my head told me something different and I had to brace myself for what was to follow. Could Wigan keep up this vast effort  in those tired closing minutes? Stifling a Tottenham team brimming with talent is a not easy and takes its mental and physical toll.

Latics supporters have come to expect the unexpected from their team and Tottenham’s lucky late goal was probably not a surprise to many of them. So many times this season Latics have not had luck on their side and they have come away short-changed.

Despite much focus being on Aston Villa as relegation rivals, Roberto Martinez has constantly said that other teams will get dragged down into the fray. Let’s hope he is right. At the moment Wigan just do not have enough points, but with good results in the next two matches against West Bromwich and Swansea they can narrow the gap.

Maynor Figueroa’s injury in the Tottenham game will put him out for the rest of the season. A bitter pill for Latics to swallow, given that they were already without key central defenders, Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis.

Martinez resisted the urge to put in Gary Caldwell, when the Honduran went off injured. His decision to put in the faster Ronnie Stam proved to be tactically justified, as Tottenham’s speedy forwards were repelled. However, Caldwell will surely return for the upcoming matches, when a back three is likely to be used.

Things are looking bleak. But with Wigan Athletic, one can continue to expect the unexpected. Wigan may be down, but don’t count them out at this stage.

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STOKE CITY 2 WIGAN ATHLETIC 2: A HARD EARNED POINT

Ben Watson made a welcome reappearance off the bench to salvage a well deserved point for Latics. A 10 man Latics team were trailing 2-1 when Hugo Rodallega was pulled down in the penalty box. The usual penalty taker, Jordi Gomez, had already been substituted so Martinez had a tough decision to make. It turned out to be an inspired decision, Watson hitting home the penalty with aplomb after being pulled off the bench to take it.

As expected Latics had to withstand the usual aerial bombardment from Stoke with multiple long throws form Rory Delap, although the wing backs did well in keeping in check the dangerous wingers, Pennant and Etherington. The stats tell us that Stoke only had two shots on target the whole game, whereas Wigan had six. Moreover Ali Al Habsi did not have a direct shot to save whereas Stoke’s Sorensen had four, although Wigan had a slice of luck in the 60th minute when a header from Huth hit the post and fell into al Habsi’s welcoming arms. In between the aerial bombardment we saw the usual ruthless tackling from Stoke, with Latics getting minimal protection from the referee. Victor Moses in particularly was heavily marked.

Latics had taken the lead in the 45th minute after Ronnie Stam fed Hugo Rodallega who put in a low cross from the right wing for Victor Moses to score with clinical precision. Stoke restarted in the second half in their usual style –or lack of it – with further aerial bombardment. The ineffective Etherington was taken off in the 73rd minute to be replaced by Cameron Jerome, who had an immediate effect. His 77th minute header was going towards goal to be blocked by a flayling hand by Gary Caldwell. Jonathan Walters scored the penalty and Caldwell was sent off. In Caldwell’s absence Jerome scored a beautifully taken second, running through from a flick-on to score. However, the 10 man Latics refused to give up and got their just rewards through Watson’s equalizing penalty in the 87th minute.

What a pity Stoke City want to play predominantly ‘route one’ football. Although most of the defenders who played for them yesterday are thuggish in their approach they nevertheless have a good squad of very capable footballers. Their squad is much more expensively put together than that of Latics – Kenwynne Jones, a high quality central striker was brought on only in the 90th minute, the kind of luxury Wigan Athletic cannot afford. In fact Stoke have at least five top class strikers – Crouch, Walters, Jerome, Jones and Fuller – to call on.

For some reason the referee played 5 minutes of additional time a t the end of the 90 minutes. I am not sure where this came from. Did he allow added tine to compensate for the accumulated time wasted by Rory Delap every time he took a long throw? Surely referees should take action against Delap who spends time drying the ball before he throws it? For the sake of argument let’s say it took Delap two minutes to deliver each throw and he put in 15 of them. The staggering total is 30 minutes in a 90 minute period. Referees should insist on him taking his throws quickly. Although it is Stoke’s main goalscoring weapon the sheer frequency of these throws and the time lost makes for a disjointed match for the neutral observer.

The Good

Sterling defensive work by Latics, withstanding the aerial bombardment for most of the game. Hats off to Latics for continuing to try to play good football against a team that takes no prisoners.

The Bad

The penalty and sending off of Gary Caldwell. The defence has been working well as a unit in recent games and Caldwell has been pivotal. One can never be sure but it looked like deliberate hand ball to me and if this is the case then Caldwell let his team down.

A Neutral Might Say

Two teams with different styles made for an entertaining game by and large. A draw was a fair result.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 7 – Persevered when the balls were flying into his box. Not an easy game for him.

Ronnie Stam: 8 – Snuffed out the danger of Etherington, showing a determination in his tackling that we have rarely seen before. Got forward and supported the attack, setting up Rodallega for Moses’ goal and having a good shot turned away by Sorensen.

Antolin Alcaraz: 7 – A key member of a defence. Sometimes he can make the game look easy.

Gary Caldwell: 6 – Excellent until his sending off that could have lost Latics the game.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 – Quietly confident, did the simple things well.

David Jones: 7 – One of his better performances defensively, keeping Pennant on a tight leash.

James McCarthy: 7 – Worked tirelessly for the team, making decisive defensive interventions. Covered a huge amount of ground.

Mohammed Diame: 7 – Classy. Worked hard against a combative Stoke midfield.

Jordi Gomez: 7 – Once again played the role of midfield general. Worked hard for the benefit of his team.

Victor Moses: 7 – Stoke did their homework and marked him closely.Took his goal like a seasoned campaigner.

Hugo Rodallaga: 7 – One of his better performances this season. Worked hard with little support. Assisted in both goals.

Substitutes:

Steve Gohouri – Not on the field long enough to make an assessment of his performance.

Ben Watson – What a pleasure to see this fine player back on the pitch showing great coolness with his penalty.