Ronnie Stam (left) and Tom Cleverley (right) get in the Boxing Day spirit on a trip to Wolverhampton Zoo
It’s all change at the foot of the table thanks to a highly important afternoon of fixtures in the Premier League. Earlier today, West Ham chalked up an away win at Fulham, a feat which Wigan Athletic (thankfully) managed to emulate in their 3pm kickoff at Molineux to haul themselves out of the relegation zone. Our opponents, who we’ve now done the double over for 2010–11, sit bottom below both Latics and the Hammers whilst Fulham slip to 18th.
Wolves can console themselves, however, in the fact I can tell you with some certainty these aren’t going to be the final placings, with plenty of teams still in the reckoning and others dropping like a stone towards the snake pit of relegation (Blackburn and West Brom being prime candidates at this point in time). Oh yeah, despite what some might claim, this season isn’t going to be settled at Christmas but this period of tightly-packed fixtures will go a long way to decide who’ll be stumbling through the first part of next year like a drunken old relative on Christmas Day.
In some ways, you could describe Wolverhampton’s defending as such, especially in those first 20 minutes which would ultimately decide this game’s outcome. First Hugo Rodallega then Tom Cleverley would finish expertly on 10 and 20 minutes respectively to give the visitors a fantastic start and a vital cushion. However, you sensed it wasn’t going to be enough — we would have to score again. Luckily for Wigan, this wasn’t to be the case as even though the hosts pulled one back late on, they didn’t look a great threat in front of goal.
Wolves ought to have had a penalty on the half hour mark when Steve Gohouri seemed to upend Steven Ward but the decision was not forthcoming from Mike Dean. Combine this with a few fantastic saves from Latics keeper Al-Habsi and you’d say the ball wasn’t really rolling for Mick McCarthy’s men. The Omani, on the other hand, seems to have struck a rich seam of fortune of late what with his equally skilful and miraculous clean sheet at Everton two weeks ago to add to his collection of stops today.
Half time came and went with Wigan on top in terms of scoreline and confidence running high but with some caution. Minds were cast back to October when Wigan threw away a similar winning position against Newcastle at St James’ Park. Martinez’s tactics, if not spectacular, looked to be working this time as they kept the score at 2–0 for the vast majority of the second stanza.
Home hopes were raised three minutes from time as Steven Fletcher scrambled the ball into Latics’ net from close range. You could say the goal had been coming and all Wolves’ pressure in those last 30 minutes had to tell at some point. Wigan, however, kept possession and time wasted quite well to see out the remaining three minutes of stoppage time, with just enough seconds left for the odd Hugo Rodallega shot ballooning high and wide into the top row of the stands! We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one though.
The full time whistle blew to a chorus of boos from the Wolves faithful but also cheers from a clutch (or should that be bunch?) of Latics supporters kitted out in that most suitable of Boxing Day attire, the banana suit.
The result moves us up to 16th in the table, where things are really shaken up now with each team in the mix having played a different number of games. The sub-zero weather conditions which saw our game against Aston Villa called off may not be ideal but that postponement did give a chance for returning club captain Gary Caldwell to rest up for today’s game. He and Steve Gohouri –who switched to left back– would have to do a job in the absence of Maynor Figueroa, whilst James McArthur filled the void left by the also suspended Hendry Thomas. That they did, and to some effect. We’ll have to see whether they retain their places upon the return of the Hondurans.
Arsenal on Wednesday promises to be an altogether different prospect and you’d think it would be a case of damage limitation to ensure our goal difference (still the worst in the league) doesn’t suffer too much. Who knows, if we play well enough a highly useful away point or perhaps even points may just be on the cards. Wishful thinking? Well, ’tis the season of miracles.