Things were looking so rosy at half time; Latics had just about edged proceedings thanks to a strike from Jason Scotland, his first in the league for Wigan and hopefully one of many — though the jury’s still out on that. I’m sure Wigan fans would have been much happier had the goal actually counted for something other than goal difference in the grand scheme of things, but still, nice to see a signing come good…
Scotland’s 34th minute strike came immediately after a good spell of possession for the visitors, who’d just gone close through Maynor Figueroa, this afternoon playing in a forward-thinking left wing role. Minutes later, the Trinidadian was set up by Moreno, who controlled an N’Zogbia pass nicely into his path.
There was an element of good fortune about the goal as keeper Mark Schwarzer seemed unsighted, and maybe should have done better. But still, we shan’t begrudge Jason this much sought-after strike – hopefully, now the floodgates will open and he’ll grab a hat trick against Portsmouth next week. Wishful thinking? Perhaps not.
You see, Martinez was somewhat forced into making changes to his regular playing style, resolving to pander to criticism — or perhaps necessity — and go 4-4-2 with Hugo Rodallega joining Scotland and Moreno up front from time to time. You know the drill: control the ball in the midfield area and look for the killer pass up to the front men. Scotland looks to have settled into his role well and, despite the fact it’s painfully evident he isn’t quite of the same calibre as Emile Heskey, did his job for the first 45 yesterday. Actually, I’m sure some Villa fans would beg to differ on that Heskey comment. Best to just leave it there.
The absence of Gary Caldwell, serving a suspension after being sent off against Man City on Monday, meant Paul Scharner would once again have to fill in at centre back, a position he didn’t exactly relish. In fact, he must have thought he was still playing in the centre of midfield when, instead of hoofing the ball clear, he attempted to dribble past Zoltan Gera on his own goal line. Care to guess what happened next? Yep, just two minutes into the second half, and it was 1-1.
I can just hear the calls from the crowd now: “You aren’t playing in a luxury position today, Paul.” To be fair, the Austrian dealt with pretty much everything else, except…
11 minutes later, Fulham were ahead on the scoresheet courtesy of Brede Hangeland, who leapt highest to nod a Damien Duff corner past Chris Kirkland. Another “defensive lapse”, as Roberto likes to call it, and Latics were really up against it. From then onwards, Wigan struggled to create anything of note, save maybe a volley 25 feet over the bar from Moreno.
Latics simply could not replicate the pressure they exerted upon the Fulham backline in the first half, only managing to grab hold of the ball every now and then. When they did enjoy some sort of possession and the passes started coming back to them — albeit in a piecemeal fashion — it was far too late, and anyway Schwarzer was never challenged.
You get the feeling that, had this contest been at the DW, Wigan may have just had that extra impetus in the form of a home crowd to gee their side to a much-needed draw.
On the bright side, all our main contenders failed to make any real progress this weekend. Well, all except for West Ham, who did well to secure an away point at Everton, something Latics couldn’t quite manage. Oh, who am I kidding – the second half was one of the most frustrating and, dare I say it, poor displays I’ve seen us put up in recent times. I thought all the defensive problems and lack of cutting edge were all behind us and we’d be safe by next week.
There was a chance for a point here, but irritatingly Latics couldn’t pull one out of the bag when it mattered. Whether we deserved it or not is another matter, but I do have to say my expectations were a little bit higher than the lacklustre performance of the second 45.
No matter, the contests against Portsmouth, West Ham and perhaps most crucially Hull will decide the fate of Wigan Athletic in 2009/10. Sure, a point yesterday would have been nice, but those three clashes — two of which are at home, by the way — were always going to be the most important. I’d say a win and two draws would be enough, but a couple of wins would seal it, even if things go right down to the wire as I think they will. It’s still in our own hands, which is far more than can be said for Burnley or Hull.