Wigan Athletic 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0 – jaded Latics scrape out a win

Ali Al-Habsi was lucky not to receive a red card.

Ali Al-Habsi was lucky not to receive a red card.

Following the herculean performance at the Etihad on Sunday, a hung-over Latics team struggled to beat a team low on flair. Wigan scraped out a win in controversial circumstances, the winner coming in the 88th minute from a superbly executed Jordi Gomez penalty.

Latics lineup was close to what had been expected, but Uwe Rosler decided not to rest his trusted defenders James Perch and Emmerson Boyce. They lined up together with Leon Barnett and Jean Beausejour in a flat back four. Ryan Tunnicliffe took over Chris McCann’s normal position on the left of central midfield, with James McArthur in centre-right and Jordi Gomez playing the linkman role.  Martyn Waghorn and James McClean played wide up front with Nicky Maynard in the centre forward position.

The game started scrappily and Wigan struggled to get any coherency to their play. The visitors had clearly done their homework and used their own high pressing tactic to disrupt the build-up of Latics moves from the back. James McClean provided some much needed energy for lethargic Latics and got behind the big full back Buxton, only to squander a good opportunity to blazing the ball across the goal.

Wednesday were proving to be a hard nut to crack – a big physical team who had clearly come to claim at least a point. But their finishing left much to be desired and they rarely threatened Ali Al-Habsi until the 37th minute when they won a penalty.  Maghoma was put through by Best to be felled by the Omani as he went through on goal. It was a clear penalty and many of us in the crowd were expecting a red card for the goalkeeper. To the relief of the Latics faithful the big Omani was to receive only a yellow and made a great save from Leon Best’s penalty.

Latics perked up a little after the penalty save and the largely anonymous Tunnicliffe warmed goalkeeper Martinez’s hands with a shot from 25 yards. Then Boyce got in a downward header, but it was saved by ‘keeper Martinez.

Latics limped into half time, looking like they needed a new infusion of players to bring them to life. The movement that typifies Rosler’s style of football was hardly evident and changes were clearly needed. It was disconcerting to see Latics resort to using long balls in their frustration of not getting quality possession.

Those changes came in the 54th minute when Rosler brought on Callum McManaman for an ineffective Waghorn and Nick Powell for the tiring McArthur. This put some extra life into Latics play and Powell soon put McClean through on the left, but his disappointing cross went into Martinez’s hands. Apart from that there was a lack of quality in their build-up as Wednesday held firm. The visitors’ physical approach and the laxness of referee Andy Haines frustrated the home crowd.

Marc-Antoine Fortune replaced McClean after 72 minutes and his physical approach helped liven things up. Latics were now playing a 4-4-2 formation with McManaman and Powell playing wide and Fortune and Maynard in the middle. In the 79th minute one of the few moves of quality saw Fortune put McManaman through on the right with a clear run on goal. With a calmer head the winger might have scored but he blazed his low shot past the far post.

Latics continued to press and were rewarded with a hotly disputed penalty after Perch had gone down after Lavery’s challenge. Gomez put away the penalty and Latics somehow had salvaged three points.

The Good

Rosler acknowledged after the game that “Yes, we didn’t play our best and yes, we can definitely do better, but in terms of guts and belief I can’t really ask for any more from my players”.

It is the ability of Rosler’s sides to show that kind of resilience that makes Latics promotion hopefuls. The football was reminiscent of that of the dark days under Owen Coyle, but the usual style of play had broken down and Latics were left to take a more pragmatic approach.

The defence was strong throughout and limited Wednesday’s goal scoring opportunities to a minimum.

The Bad

Chris McCann was sorely missed and his replacement, Tunniicliffe, could not get to grips with the game. This led to the midfield being disjointed despite the usual hard work of McArthur and Gomez.

Rosler has lost the option of choosing his preferred midfield trio of Watson, McArthur and McCann.Moreover Roger Espinoza was not even on the bench.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 – lucky not to get sent off, but made a great penalty save and otherwise looked comfortable.

James Perch: 7 – once again his run from defence created a goal. He has added another dimension to his game. Solid as ever in defence.

Leon Barnett: 7 – superb in the air and formed a strong central defensive partnership with Boyce.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 – continues to perform consistently well.

Jean Beausejour: 7 – did not get forward as much as usual, but excellent in defence.

James McArthur: 6 – as busy and involved as ever. Taken off after 54 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – worked hard and his penalty won the game for his team.

Ryan Tunnicliffe: 4 – looked disorientated. Surely a much better player than he looked in this game.

Martyn Waghorn: 5- lacked incisive thrust. Playing wide on the right and being naturally left footed he invariably passed the ball inside.

Nicky Maynard: 5 – struggled throughout against Wednesday’s giant central defenders.

James McClean: 6 – promised but did not deliver.

Substitutes

Nick Powell: – good to see him back, but clearly not yet match fit.

Callum McManaman: – received little protection from a lenient referee. Looked dangerous on occasions.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – added more muscle up front and almost laid on a goal for McManaman.

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Sheffield Wednesday Preview – a potential banana skin

The dream continued to come true on Sunday as Latics grafted out a win that took them into the FA Cup semi-finals. Apart from a few glimpses in the first half we did not see the kind of flowing football that won them the FA Cup in May. But we did witness once again the “character” that this Latics team now displays under Uwe Rosler. It might not have been as pleasing on the eye as what we saw in May, but in many ways this win was even more impressive. Only one English team- Chelsea- had beaten Manchester City this season at the Etihad Stadium prior to Wigan’s victory. City had hit six against Arsenal and Tottenham and seven against Norwich.

It is a reflection upon the changes that have occurred since the historic May victory that only four players from that Wembley final made the starting lineup on Sunday. There may be even less in the team that meets Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow.

If any match this season presents a potential banana skin it is this one. It would be all too easy for Latics to slip up against the Yorkshire club after the elation of the quarter final win. Latics are clear favourites to win this match after six successive victories and a 3-0 win at Hillsborough a month ago. However, the performance at City will have taken its physical toll and this match is the second of three in a period of six days.

Rosler will certainly have to rotate his squad for this match. Chris McCann went off injured at half time on Sunday, so will be doubtful. Rosler has already stated that Ivan Ramis is not yet fit enough for two games a week. Leon Barnett, who has played more games than anyone this season, was rested from the starting lineup on Saturday but had to come on for McCann after half time. Rosler will also be tempted to rest Emmerson Boyce, who was superb on Sunday.

Nicky Maynard and Martyn Waghorn will almost certainly return to the starting lineup. Callum McManaman and James McClean shared game time on Sunday and may well do so again, the latter being the more likely starter. If Rosler goes for a flat back four then Ryan Tunnicliffe might well start in holding midfield. The big Swede Marcus Holgersson might well make his debut, teaming up with Barnett in the centre of defence. However, he can also play right back if Rosler decides to rest James Perch. Jean Beausejour will return at left back, providing he is fit. Rosler is fortunate to be able to choose from probably the two best goalkeepers in the division, in Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson.

Dave Whelan was quoted this week as saying “I’ve loved that FA Cup and the whole town has but this year you’ve got a feeling the league is more important. You get people asking ‘what do you want to do?’ Well there’s only one thing – promotion back to the Premier League.”

Rosler will be therefore be keen to bring his players back down to the ground following the elation of their amazing performance at the Etihad. They will have to knuckle down and fight for the fifty-fifty balls against a Wednesday team currently sitting in 16th place.

Latics fans will be hoping they don’t slip up on that banana skin tomorrow.

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