So close: Ronnie Stam could have stolen it in the dying embers
Wigan came away from Liverpool this afternoon with a point, something I doubt even the most optimistic of Latics fans could fail to be happy with. Forget Miracle on 34th Street, this was a case of Miracle on Goodison Road. Well, perhaps that’s a bit extreme but the gods were undeniably in the visitors’ favour on this surprisingly mild afternoon. Which actually makes some sense, considering Jesus was a Wiganer (groan).
For the first portion of the game, Latics were sprightly and, whilst not creating any real chances, posed a real threat in the opposition third. N’Zogbia and Cleverley in particular –the latter of which put in his share of hard yards at both ends of the field all afternoon until his substitution at half time– had the better of numerous opposition players in those first twenty minutes or so.
From then until the interval it was all Everton as Latics’ passing game began to fall apart and descend into hit and hope football with Charlie and Rodders the target men. Nothing wrong with that, you might say; certain managers, some even in the Prem, make quite a good living from it. It wasn’t working for Latics, though, as even when Hugo managed to gain some control he didn’t really have anyone to lay the ball off to.
Things were becoming increasingly ominous, and half time couldn’t come quickly enough for Wigan. Fellaini had just whizzed the ball across the face of the goal, less than a foot away from an advancing Cahill at the back post. On top of that, the home side were firing at Wigan like a constantly reloaded gun – each and every clearance failed to find a fellow Latic as we found ourselves well and truly pinned in.
The half time whistle came with Everton well on top but Wigan still on level terms and, though a bit shaky, yet to concede more than one shot on target. Going into the break, the stats showed just the one for each team, though this was somewhat surprising. Perhaps it’s fallout from last week’s relative goal fest at the DW.
In the second period, Everton picked up from where they left off – it was going to be a long half for the Latics. The attacks just kept on coming as first Pienaar then Baines and Jagielka all drew fantastic saves from Ali Al Habsi. Add to this a Fellaini cross which found its way into the hands of Al Habsi, and you would have to say it really was the Omani’s day.
Then, as if they really needed their noses rubbing in the dirt, Jermaine Beckford saw his strike ruled out as he was offside in the build up. Frustrated, and perhaps starting to feel the pressure just a bit, the attacking play from the home side started to subside. Wigan, who had somehow managed to weather everything an unlucky Everton could throw at them, started to get some possession and created a few nice passing moves – things were beginning to click into place, perhaps?
It was tough breaking down the Everton defence, though. Mo Diame almost managed to do so with less than twenty minutes to play, but scuffed his shot as Tim Howard advanced towards him. To be fair, Mo was being escorted all the way by a defender or two, but it was Latics’ best chance of the game to date.
Yet more Everton pressure petered out into a string of offsides and weak shots and, incredibly, things were still 0–0 going into the final five minutes of the game. With Wigan beginning to wrest a semblance of control over the ball, an away win was, unbelievably, not completely out of the question.
Indeed, Latics could have pinched the points in the final minutes. With the game entering stoppage time, the visitors found themselves on the break with four attackers in the opposition half. We couldn’t, could we? Considering everything we’d been through in the previous ninety minutes and the sheer battering we were given for the majority?
Well no, actually, though Ronnie Stam came within a whisker of doing so, drawing a fantastic save from Howard. It was undoubtedly the closest Wigan had come and the chance to snatch an unlikely three points right from under the hosts’ noses. Which would have been nice, what with us still clinging on in the relegation zone.
On reflection, however, you really have to settle for a point in this situation. Who knows, with some winnable games to come in the next month, perhaps this could be the start of an upward turn in our luck? Because Lord knows we had some today, and how.