Rory Delap: Beware the long throws of doom!
If ever the word ‘splurge’ could be applied to a football match, then the first half of this particular Premier League encounter was certainly that. Though four goals were scored, only one of them was a ‘proper’ strike; the other three came via deflections, and some fortuitous ones at that.
As is usual at the DW Stadium, Latics dominated possession but unlike normally, some actual attacking play was there to back it up. Had Antolin Alcaraz and Hendry Thomas managed to hit the target with the goal in their wake, we could have headed into the interval 3–2 to the good, and you probably wouldn’t have begrudged us that.
Stoke went ahead on 18 minutes thanks to a long-range free kick from Robert Huth. It wasn’t exactly spectacular, but chalked up the first strike of a half littered with goals, and set the precedent for deflected opportunities finding their way into the net. The German’s shot would take a considerable touch off the wall to leave Al Habsi floundering, unable to do a thing as the ball trickled over his goal line.
After some spirited pressure play from the Latics, which involved two good deliveries from Ben Watson, you felt a goal was on the way. Indeed, it was third time lucky as the aforementioned ex-Palace midfielder saw his ball fly past Asmir Begovic via the boot of Danny Collins for a deserved equaliser. At this stage, it seemed you just had to put the ball in the right area and it would somehow find its way over the goal line.
There was nothing fortunate about Stoke’s next goal, which caught Latics on the hop somewhat. After some good work by Kenwyne Jones on the right wing, Fuller held up the ball just inside the area and crossed for an advancing Etherington to score easily at the back post. Wigan were on level terms for less than two minutes.
The home side wouldn’t have to worry too much, however, as they found themselves at 2–2 on 40 minutes through Tom Cleverley. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as once again a large deflection –this time via the thigh of a Stoke defender– was to be responsible for wrongfooting Begovic.
The second half was initially very open, Mauro Boselli having two half chances before a prolonged period of Stoke pressure peaking in a Kenwyne Jones shot saved nicely by Al Habsi.
The atmosphere started to ramp up a notch and a bit of argy bargy ensued. Ref Mike Jones attempted to assert some authority by booking Fuller and Shawcross then Maynor Figueroa for a high boot. Having received a bit of criticism from both sets of fans for some extremely weak free kicks, including one on Fuller that led to Stoke’s first goal, perhaps he was wary of losing control of an increasingly tense game.
As the minutes passed, you sensed Stoke would be more happy with the point, which became blatantly obvious some fifteen minutes from the end of the game. Clear cut chances were few and far between for both sides, though Fuller and Etherington might have scored for the visitors before time was up. Wigan made some good passing moves and, for the large part, retained possession but couldn’t get any more shots on target.
The Potters managed to see out the remaining time –which surprisingly didn’t include time added on for all those long throw setups– for a useful away draw. I don’t think a point is a complete disaster for us, though the lack of a win is somewhat worrying. The first half promised a bit more, I would suggest. Wolves’ loss this afternoon is of some consolation, but there is now a small gap opening up between the bottom four and the rest of the field. We need some wins, and quick, or else it isn’t going to be a very merry Christmas. Hmm.