Warning: this report is, as usual, heavily biased towards Wigan. Man City fans, prepare to be irritated.
It's lonely at the back: Vladimir Stojkovic struggled to fill Kirkland's boots
Now, you’re looking at the scoreline from this game and I know what you’re thinking; Latics were absolutely hammered by a City side of superior quality with world class players and a hundred times more footballing nouse. Well, I’ll tell you now that you are wrong and a 3-0 loss does not do Wigan Athletic justice, not one iota.
In fact, up until just before the hour mark they were looking good for a draw, perhaps even a win. But then came one of those game-changing decisions by the inexperienced Stuart Attwell, a momentary rush of blood to the head that resulted in Gary Caldwell being dismissed for a challenge on Carlos Tevez just outside the Wigan penalty area.
The referee, who only had a partial view of the incident, decided the Scot had shown reckless intent as he lunged for the ball, despite the fact it was there to be won, the Wigan defender only had eyes for it and never even so much as touched Tevez with his leading leg. What’s more, he even won the ball relatively cleanly.
The incident was made to look far worse by the fact Caldwell’s foot finished up about twelve inches off the ground and also because Tevez went down as though he’d been hit by a tractor or something. Then again, this wasn’t the only time this happened, and exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Argentinian. But we shall let this pass because Tevez himself was completely blameless, even if he did jump into the tackle two-footed himself. Besides, any self-respecting South American would have done the same in that position.
If this all sounds a bit of a bitter perspective then it probably is, but that one incident turned the course of the whole game on its head. Up until this point, Wigan arguably looked the better team, controlling possession in midfield and making Patrick Vieira look like some sort of security guard or something – he just stood and watched as Wigan completed pass after pass and took shot after shot at the City goal. Then again, I don’t really rate Vieira as a signing at this point in his career anyway.
Paul Scharner: if only he could finish...
Paul Scharner ended up with about four chances throughout the game, coming closest after a Moreno free kick trickled its way through the wall to leave the Austrian with a wonderful opportunity to slot it past Shay Given. On this occasion, the City keeper made an excellent save, but in every other instance Scharner completely failed to hit the target. This isn’t to say he didn’t work hard, simply he isn’t a natural forward and has been played out of position not only in this game but pretty much all season.
He would, however, get his chance to take up the centre back role for a while after Caldwell’s red card, a position he once again vacated in the latter stages as Steve Gouhouri was given a run out. By the time 90 minutes were up, Scharn had been switched around more times than an Austrian ballet dancer with his underpants stuck up his bottom.
As for the hosts, they had plenty of chances of their own, Carlos Tevez twice coming within a hair’s (or should that be hare’s, what with it being Easter week?) breadth of a goal during the first half. The first of these was somehow saved at point blank range by Latics stand-in keeper Vladimir Stojkovic (Chris Kirkland was ruled out on the day of the game with a mixture of illness and injury). At the time, I reckoned it to be a decent stop, but after viewing his performance from the rest of the night, I’m inclined to change my mind and say there was an element of luck about it.
The Serb never looked comfortable, but fortunately was relatively unchallenged for the majority of the game. This changed, however, when Stoj gifted City an opportunity they could not miss on 75 minutes. Yep, you heard me right – all three of Man City’s goals came in the final fifteen minutes of the game, but as soon as that first goal went in things were pretty much over.
In actual fact I’m inclined to suggest it was the sending off that killed things. Although Wigan looked sprightly immediately following the incident, perhaps spurred on by the perceived injustice, Moreno’s excellent curling shot just wide of a diving Shay Given’s right post was to be their last opportunity of the night.
Well, I suppose there's still a small chance Caldwell's red card could be rescinded
Can we count the Latics side that appeared yesterday evening as ‘patchwork’? With Kirkland, Boyce and N’Zogbia all unable to take their place in the starting lineup — combined with Hendry Thomas limping off injured on 53 minutes — you could argue Wigan did well to even compete, considering the flimsiness of their fringe squad. One curiosity to note is the fact the supposedly still-recovering N’Zogbia actually played the final 35 minutes, looking good in the short time it remained 11 vs 11. Latics will be hoping he, and the aforementioned crocks, will be okay to face Fulham on Easter Sunday.
Speaking of Sunday, I predict that if Wigan produce the same performance as they did for 75 minutes yesterday, they will have no problem dispatching a Fulham side completely focused on their European exploits this campaign. Marcelo Moreno had his best performance in a Wigan shirt, following a solid turnout against Burnley last week, and I daresay he’ll be on the scoresheet sooner rather than later. Mind you, we said that about Jason Scotland and there is a very real possibility he could go a whole Premier League season without scoring.
The important thing is that we do not let Monday’s defeat knock our confidence. Wigan are starting to find some form and play the football we know they can – are things starting to click? Well, I’ll reserve judgement on that when we actually start getting some results. Until then, my bottom will continue to be squeaking so loud you could hear it in Cheetham Hill.