In his time as England manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson often spoke of how players such as Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, whilst not constituting a team by themselves, could visibly lift the whole squad with a performance or single moment of brilliance which boosts confidence tenfold. Latics, so often touted a confidence team, clearly missed such a character this afternoon, and I probably don’t need to spell out who that person might well have been.
Though morale was relatively high off the back of a good point against title-chasing Arsenal, Wigan once again reverted to type characterised by a lack of potency, cutting edge and collective football nous. It wasn’t quite as bad as Blackpool and Chelsea, but was a performance devoid of ideas and any sort of willingness to penetrate the Newcastle penalty area.
In truth, this rather frustrating day out at the DW can’t wholly be attributed to the absence of talismanic wingman Charles N’Zogbia. Tom Cleverley and Hugo Rodallega remain men who, on their day, can turn a game in Latics favour in a moment, but neither managed to do so this afternoon. Clev struggled to reproduce the form he’s shown in the past couple of weeks, managing only one shot all game (Latics’ best and only real challenging strike) whilst Rodders was, well, a bit pants to be honest.
The game could have lasted 180 minutes and we still wouldn’t have scored, even with Martinez’s constant changing of formation. In the end, it was a case of pumping the ball into a packed penalty area in the vein hope the ball would somehow find its way into the Newcastle goal. Of course, with players more accustomed to passing the ball around than scoring goals, this was a concept somewhat foreign to the current Latics line-up and pretty much always doomed to failure. All credit to Martinez for switching things around to try new things, but there simply wasn’t the firepower in the final third.
Bob recognised this and brought on Boselli (60 minutes) to try and inject some forward-thinking urgency. With Mauro woefully underpracticed, though, he might have been better served sticking with Gomez, who at least had a better game than the Argentinian. Bos’ contribution to the game was limited to a single deflected shot –an ambitious one at that– which trickled harmlessly through to nobody.
As I said, we could have gone all night without even so much as threatening, such was our lack of quality today. Things started off quite evenly, with both teams firing in (and squandering) equally good opportunities, but it would only be downhill from here. After Ameobi’s tap in at the back post, you’d be hard pressed to find a shot that would make Stevie Harper look up from his Sunday Times crossword.
There was a brief resurgence in the first twenty minutes of the second half, but Rodallega seemed intent on getting his shots away first time from increasingly difficult angles. Strange indeed.
That’s all there is to say about Wigan, really. Newcastle came to do a job and executed it with great ease, at times taking a lengthy stroll round Robin Park, taking in tea and biscuits before watching another Latics attack peter out amusingly. They’ll be massively grateful of the points, and Wigan remain in the mire just two off the bottom and with some tough challenges in the next month. Gulp.
If this is the shape of things to come without Charles N’Zogbia, I am certainly not looking forward to the second half of the season. If there’s anything positive to come from this experience, it’s Ronnie Stam’s performance. Granted, he is partly to blame for the Magpies’ goal and couldn’t really handle Shola Ameobi, but fared better in the second half when he played more predominantly on the right hand side. He’s no N’Zogbia, but then who else is?
I’m clinging to the hope that a tough week has taken its toll on Latics and a good ice bath might be just the thing for a rearguard performance on Wednesday night. I think a point is the very best we could hope for here, and let’s be honest, things can only get better. Can’t they?