This game, according to John Toner of 101greatgoals, represented a “unique opportunity” for the Latics. Spurs, no doubt with half an eye on Tuesday’s Champions League bout with European heavyweights Real Madrid, travelled to Wigan with just two fit central defenders and a damage limitation mentality to ensure no more injury worries ahead of their huge midweek encounter.
For Latics, *this* was the big game. Forget nights out on the continent, this is the real deal; Blackpool, Everton and the odd trip to London await Bob’s relegation battlers, and each is a must-win. Not many outside the borough would give Latics a chance, but then we’re well used to that under Martinez. Fans were more expectant ahead of today’s game, and as it happened they had every right to be.
It wasn’t all positive for Wigan, however. It seems we’re all too comfortable on the ball but unable to find that killer punch in the final third, even with Sammon and Di Santo having a go at some point in the 94 minutes of play this afternoon. If the league was won on draws alone, Wigan would be up there with the best of ’em, keeping the ball and waiting for the perfect pass like no other. Until Sepp Blatter awards an extra point for a clean sheet, however, Latics will continue to struggle.
The midfield dominance is there, but it’s all too obvious we’re missing a proper goalscorer with that forward-thinking instinct. Sure, Charles N’Zogbia can do that, as can Cleverley on his day. They’re midfielders at heart, however, very good at distribution and beating the man, but it’s unreasonable to put pressure on them to score goals. Passes don’t win games, goals do.
Don’t get me wrong, today was a relatively good day, a solid performance missing only the odd goal that would turn us from an average/poor team to a half decent one. Martinez is keen to stress how the players are the ones that win games, not him. I presume he means guys like Boselli and Di Santo, big money strikers brought in to score the goals, but for one reason or other they can’t. Whether it be through lack of skill or the wrong tactics, it can’t be denied we’re missing one vital element crucial to any football team, and that’s the ability to actually score. In that respect, you’d say we have a handicap on all other teams battling for their Premier League lives.
Tom Cleverley, Victor Moses and Charles N’Zogbia all had a go at scoring today, but it’s unreasonable to rely on them entirely. Hugo Rodallega, our most prolific source of goals recently, wasn’t completely blameless (as he never is), but played a great part in some of the good things Latics created. And yes, we did a lot right, bossing the game for large periods and dominating possession at key moments.
Tottenham held their own, most notably for ten to fifteen minutes in the first half and the final 20 minutes of the game, but lacked the wide men to really put Latics’ defenders to the sword. Wigan threw everything they had at the visitors and created a couple of clear opportunities, but were on each occasion denied by a bit of excellent last-ditch defending or good reaction save. In short, this didn’t exactly feel like we were playing a Champions League contending club, and you could see the confidence rise as we came to terms with that.
In a way, you could say the game actually more closely resembled our clash with Birmingham two weeks ago. The main exception to this was the fact Wigan came out fighting rather than flailing like a Sunday league team that hadn’t met previously. Much better, but no real opportunities to speak of in that initial period of pressure. After a spell of Spurs attacking play, Latics fought back with some shots of their own. However, once again we failed to find the target, mostly firing hopelessly over after some good build up play. Victor Moses came closest with a shot that cleared the crossbar by a foot or two, and N’Zogbia had a bit of a pot shot from outside the penalty area. His strike, too, would sail wide of the mark.
Wigan looked more like scoring in the first 25 minutes of the second half, and could have done so just 180 seconds after the restart as N’Zogbia got the home side’s first shot on target, drawing Gomes into a save at his near post. At least now some pressure was being exerted on the opposition goalkeeper, who at one point looked to be taking painkillers for a presumed minor injury.
Hugo Rodallega had perhaps Latics’ best chance, but saw his no doubt goalbound shot blocked by two Tottenham defenders in a great piece of defending. The crowd sparked into life and Latics continued to press, snubbing out potential dangers adequately and getting forward whenever the need arose.
Ironically, things began to decline as Martinez introduced Conor Sammon for a 25-minute cameo up top in the sole striker position, with Victor Moses making way. By and large, it didn’t really work that well, even with a faux-4-4-2 setup so many fans have been calling for. Most of this can be attributed to Spurs’ second wind, which saw Peter Crouch, on for Jermaine Defoe, carve out some of the best chances for either team. I’m also tempted to point to the international exertions of certain players as a reason for any lethargy which began to creep into Latics’ play, but then Tottenham would undoubtedly have had similar problems.
Eventually, Martinez resolved to change things up a bit more. Rodallega and N’Zogbia were withdrawn with less than ten minutes to play, to be replaced by Diame and Di Santo. It was a real punt, but somewhat remarkably, this combination almost paid dividends as Conor Sammon found himself with an opportunity to bag the winner with 87 minutes on the clock, only to see his stab superbly saved by Gomes. Ben Watson had one last chance in the final minute of the game, curving his free kick just a foot over the bar after Di Santo drew Sandro into a foul on the edge of the Tottenham area.
A point against a top five team is no real disaster. Three points, though, was definitely not out of the question and could have taken some pressure off the games to come. As it stands, Wigan are still in with a shout of survival, but with Chelsea to come next I fear being cast adrift, and fast.