Fulham 1 Wigan Athletic 1: Di Santo redeems himself

DiSanto

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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Missed chances rued as Webb steals the show

When I was younger my father used to say the benchmark of a good referee is how little you notice them, and yet whenever the World Cup Final referee Howard Webb is on the pitch, he appears to seek the exact opposite. You get the sense he enjoys the jeers from the terraces because they acknowledge his role as a protagonist. Indeed Sunderland fans spent much of the first half booing him after he correctly awarded a series of non-consequential professional fouls Wigan’s way. And he repaid them, true to form, by harshly dismissing Jordi Gomez and then ignoring worse tackles the other way.

Saturday’s 1-0 loss was a familiar story for Wigan Athletic, left to rue their excellent early chances after Webb’s decision-making effectively killed off the match. Roberto Martinez, a diplomat and gentleman not noted for vocal dissent, has now raised his voice twice in the last three league fixtures. In this instance, it was the sending off of Jordi Gomez — the least likely player on the pitch to deliberately injure another — that swung the game. It was a clumsy challenge, albeit studs up and therefore a defendable dismissal by the letter of the law. The chief complaint is not about the red card itself, but the double-standard when Seb Larsson and James McLean tried their hardest to join Gomez later in the match — with a nastier tackle and string of yellow card infractions respectively.

The Good:

Latics deserved to be up at half-time. James McCarthy’s early burst into the box resulted in a one-on-one that Mignolet somehow kept out. Jean Beausejour’s sensational skill and cross for Arouna Koné should have made it two. McCarthy was again unlucky with a viscious drive later in the half. Meanwhile, Sunderland were limited to set pieces and couldn’t find a way to break the defence down.

McCarthy’s performance was exceptional. He has been given license to venture forward in the last couple fixtures, and has the fitness to do so without neglecting his defensive duties. His technique is wonderful, and if he gets in shooting positions two or three times per match, the goals will come.

Maynor Figueroa’s first half passing stands out, despite the windy conditions. Despite being reduced to 10 men for half the match, Latics had the same number of shots, an equal amount of possession as their opponents, and the most clear-cut chances. The first half overall, was very heartening.

The Bad: 

This is the second game in a row where excellent chances have been created not been converted. Koné is getting in decent positions, but failing with his final shot. You do get the sense he is a confident finisher and will come good. But Mauro Boselli must have been frustrated to see those early chances go to waste after his brace at West Ham earlier in the week.

The substitutions came too late. It had been clear for much of the second half that Latics were not getting anywhere with 10 men, even after Di Santo came on. When McManaman and Miyaichi were finally introduced, there was an immediate injection of energy and urgency, if not any actual clear cut chances.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — A little wobbly on a windy day and Seb Larsson’s dangerous crossing. But kept the ball out and can’t be faulted for the goal.

Ivan Ramis: 6 — Gets better every match, although he did get beaten for pace on a couple occasions.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Resorted to hoofing the ball in the second half, which is unlike him and suggests desperation.

Maynor Figueroa: 6.5 — Some fantastic passing in the first half, but the cross for the goal came down his side.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Solid but not as much attacking thrust as Jean Beausejour on the other side. Having said that, more goals against seem to originate on the left, which is testament to the defensive solidity Boyce adds on the right.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — If Koné had managed to beat Mignolet with the far post tap in, Beausejour’s piece of skill that provided the chance would have gone down as the assist of the season. Faded as the game went on though.

James McArthur: 6 — Solid if unspectacular, occasionally rusty.

James McCarthy: 8 — Imposing performance by a player who is coming into his own. Has been unlucky not to score in the last couple matches. If he adds goals to his game he will be complete, and unfortunately probably gone to a top four club not too long after.

Shaun Maloney: 6 — A few useful touches in the first half, but unable to impact the match as he has in the past. Substituted after Jordi’s red card.

Jordi Gomez: 5 — Of the two playmakers, he was actually having the better day, drifting in and out of dangerous positions and playing a lovely dinked through ball for Koné in the first half. But his lunge was unnecessary and the red card that ensued essentially lost us the match.

Arouna Koné: 5 — Didn’t have a tremendous amount of service, but fluffed his lines with the chances he had. Credit to Mignolet for an astonishing save, but we need our strikers to bury those chances. His opposite number, Steven Fletcher, only got on chance, a difficult one at that, but won them the match.

Subs:

Franco Di Santo: Unable to get on the ball and influence the match.

Callum McManaman: Energetic and positive.

Ryo Miyaichi: When he comes on, he sees a lot of the ball. Which means he wants it and is asking for it, but also that his teammates believe he can make something happen.