Let’s get this out of the way first of all – Liverpool were, by their standards, rubbish. Their passing was sloppy — amongst the worst I’ve seen at the DW this season, in fact — their finishing and will to win largely lacking.
That’s not to say the Reds didn’t have their fair share of chances last night. The only problem was they couldn’t hit the target, and may I say (in a rather biased fashion) that it was nice to see someone other than Wigan struggle to do so at the DW Stadium. Perhaps the biggest culprit of all was Fernando Torres, who, in his five opportunities, never even managed to challenge Chris Kirkland. Two of them, on another day, he may well have slotted away to help Liverpool bury little Wigan like they ought to have.
I say ‘ought to have’ in a partly ironic fashion, as on balance, you’d have never known which team were battling for a top four place and which were fighting against relegation. In truth, Latics were deserved winners and the more likely to score all night, even if Liverpool did have some similarly decent opportunities.
Right, that’s out of my system now. This particular match report will differ from 90% of those that adorn the front pages of tabloids and fansites nationwide in that it will actually focus on the Wigan perspective, and how wonderful it is to grab a crucial, crucial, crucial three points. In fact it was so important I decided to repeat the word ‘crucial’ a couple of times there.
As I sit here, the ‘analysts’ on TalkSport are picking apart the substandard Liverpool performance, but I shall completely ignore that, for it smacks of paint-by-numbers journalism ever so slightly. Also this is a Wigan blog, so I dunno what else you might have expected from a bunch of biased northerners.
Enough of the big boy butt kissing, already!
As Roberto Martinez beamed post-match, this win has been coming for quite a long time now. The recent run of unfavourable results hasn’t necessarily reflected the behind-the-scenes effort at the club, and contrary to what some people might have you believe, the backroom boys been working their socks off to keep Latics in the Premier League. Of course there were a few sub-par performances in there, characterised by a string of missed opportunities (Bolton at home, Birmingham both home and away, Blackburn home), but the odd bit of luck here and there wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Last night, however, all the bad feeling towards referees, Martinez and the Latics players that had built up in the past few weeks was, for a brief moment, forgotten – even the kid with the ‘Martinez Out’ sign seemed to be revelling in the moment, and why not? Wigan completed their first win over a member of the ‘Big Four’ (soon to be ‘Big Three’?) with the whole spectacle broadcast live on television to boot. It may have been a Monday evening when the majority of us have work the following morning, but I’ll bet you any money those Wigan fans that did fork out the £28 or so were extremely happy they did.
On balance, Wigan were the brighter and livelier of the two teams, particularly in the first half. Although they only had one shot on target to show for all their good pressure, that isn’t much of a change from recent performances: the crucial aspect here is that Latics made the chance count. Sure, Hugo Rodallega’s sidefoot past Pepe Reyna may have been a bit scrawpy and relied on a momentary lapse of concentration in the normally steadfast Liverpool defence, but we’ll take ’em however they come at this stage. Besides, we were overdue a scrappy goal. Actually, we were overdue any goal full stop.
Though you may not have noticed it (heheh), there were actually two teams in this contest, and Liverpool, though off-colour, weren’t completely without presence. Steven Gerrard found himself with the goal at his mercy midway through the first half, but only managed to skew the ball well wide of Chris Kirkland’s right hand post. Fernando Torres had earlier hit the outside of the upright, but that, along with a clutch of yellow cards, was all Liverpool had to show for their efforts in the first stanza.
So Wigan went into half time 1-0 up against the five (or is it six?) time European Champions. Not too bad for a rugby town with no supporters and a crummy stadium. But the game was far from over, as anybody you could have cared to ask would vouch for – we’ve had too much heartache at the DW this season for us to be too confident with a one-goal advantage going into the break.
Surely Liverpool would improve in the second half. Well, in actual fact they did slightly, but the inability to complete a pass that dogged them in the first half persisted throughout the remainder of the game.
That wasn’t their only problem – a buoyant Latics side high in confidence seemed to be winning all the 50-50s and sneaking in to steal the odd ball they perhaps shouldn’t have, but I think we’ll put that down to good pressurising. McCarthy, Diame, Rodallega, Moreno and later Scotland and Moses all played their part in keeping the Liverpool side pinned in their own half as Wigan shot out of the blocks to put their opponents under pressure from the moment Andre Marriner blew his whistle to begin the second half.
As expected, Liverpool came right back at Wigan as they searched for that elusive equaliser, and managed to build up a couple of decent spells of pressure, including a string of corners. None of them managed to pierce the Wigan back line, however. In fact many balls into the area were simply headed away or pushed too far for anyone to get onto the end of, resulting in much needless backtracking and the chance for the likes of Boyce and Figueroa to get their foot in. As previously stated, the boot was now well and truly on the other foot as Wigan were the ones with a lead going into the final fifteen minutes of the game.
Though Diame and Rodallega had to be subbed due to niggles, Wigan continued to look good in the Liverpool half, even if the vast majority of the side were hanging back to try and prevent a last-gasp Liverpool goal. The only remaining moment of alarm came in the final minute of injury time as the ball seemed to get stuck in the Wigan penalty area, but a needless foul on Paul Scharner, the ten billionth of the night, gave Latics a reprieve and things were all but over.
A job well accomplished for Wigan, who performed well as a team. Each played their part in repelling the might of the European contenders with Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres et al kept out for almost 100 minutes by a solid collective effort by all concerned.
Aside from the extremely handy three points, there is the added bonus of Wigan beating the mighty Liverpool for the first time, a moment that will live long in Latics lore even if the 2009/10 campaign ultimately ends in failure for Bobby’s boys. But right now there is no such pessimism, with all thoughts of relegation temporarily pushed aside as we pull four points clear of the dropzone.
In a few days time thoughts will inevitably turn to Saturday and an equally important showdown at the Reebok Stadium, but for now, we should dwell on Monday’s glorious events as you never know when, or even if, such an evening should come along again.