No donkey: Rodallega opened the scoring for Wigan
This game was, quite simply, a must win for Latics. Anything other than three points would make the task of remaining in the Premier League for at least one more season an incredible task in all likelihood beyond a side struggling to find the target, let alone score. Though it can’t be denied our performances have actually improved of late, the wins haven’t there to back them up, rendering such games all but fruitless in the harsh reality of England’s toppermost league.
Any number of football pundits will get paid for telling you it’s impossible to win a game without scoring. I would contest this statement, as it is perfectly possible to win 1-0 having forced the other team into an embarrassing own goal, and come to think of it that wouldn’t be that bad a tactic: at least it would ultimately result in our ‘goals for’ column increasing.
Two goals in six competitive games would suggest a side deserving of bottom spot in the table, but that run did include tough encounters with Man United, Man City, Tottenham and Chelsea — and it must be stated that the league’s bottom side acquitted themselves relatively well in the majority of those games. Apart from against Man U, they were never really properly hammered. From here onwards, things become more manageable with potential point-gaining opportunities against mid- and lower-table teams.
Each and every contest from now until 22 May has to be regarded as must-win, and most importantly of all, you have to score. It seems like an awful long time since Wigan took an early lead and consolidated for what could be termed a comfortable win, and that’s because it was four months ago.
There was some hope, though. 29 goals in 31 games may represent a paltry effort when you consider today’s opponents scored a whopping 46 in the same period. Unfortunately for the Tangerines, all that endeavour only resulted in them sitting two points ahead of Latics in the league table before proceedings got underway at Bloomfield Road today. The figures (which, admittedly, must always be taken in context and with a pinch of salt) point to an equally dodgy Blackpool defence, the only reason they were just one place above the relegation zone prior to 3pm this afternoon, and provided huge incentive for a goal-starved Wigan attack line.
Latics grabbed the initiative early on with Rodallega capitalising on a defensive slip to finish well past Matt Gilks in the ‘Pool net. It was just the confidence boost they needed, and would provide the platform for a more positive result for the Latics, cheered on by a hefty travelling contingent. Blackpool would settle into their own game, however, and have a good period of pressure on the Wigan goalmouth late in the first half. It redressed the balance somewhat, but in truth Al Habsi was relatively unworked, only having to palm a cross-come-shot over the crossbar up until the 45 minute mark.
Wigan would double their lead through Charles N’Zogbia in first half injury time, capitalising on yet another mistake at the back for the Seasiders. The Frenchman beat two or three defenders before sidefooting the ball past a stationary Gilks, who could do nothing. It was another excellent finish, a world apart from some of the horrible rugby-style attempts we’ve seen of late. Two-nil was slightly flattering of the Latics, who only had one or two other shots in the duration of the half, but you could say it’s about time something went Wigan’s way.
The game was all but sealed on 67 minutes when Momo Diame saw his shot take a substantial deflection off Neal Eardley to beat Matt Gilks for a third time. Unlucky for Blackpool, but it was no more than the visitors deserved. By this point, they were totally dominant in terms of possession and a third was always on the cards.
N'Zogbia was on fine form (Courtesy Leoboudv at Wikimedia Commons)
Looking to hold their considerable advantage, Wigan went on the defensive, attempting to shut out their hosts in the remaining half an hour of play. Blackpool created a few great opportunities, but were thwarted on each occasion by either a bad bounce or Ali Al Habsi, who was on hand to snaffle the ball when needed.
You sensed, though, that Wigan could decide to start playing again at any time and the hosts’ dominance in the latter stages was somewhat unrepresentative of Latics’ control over the game. Had they not decided to change things around, looking to keep the ball rather than continue in a similar attacking vein Wigan could have had at least one more. Conor Sammon, who replaced the fantastic N’Zogbia with more than 20 minutes left, was comfortable enough holding up play and taking the ball into the corners. Jordi Gomez also featured, but would give away the free kick that ultimately led to Blackpool’s goal.
3-1, however, still represents a very good day’s work for Wigan. It wasn’t perfect –at times they seemed to miss an extra man in the opposition half and had a nasty habit of giving the ball away in the final third– but proved enough for a vital, vital win which lifts them out of the relegation zone.
The Premier League table is changing in complexion on a weekly basis, with our next opponents, Steve Bruce’s Sunderland, now actually being dragged towards the bottom three. One point in 27 would suggest a team falling off a cliff, so Roberto’s side might never get a better chance to grab those elusive back-to-back wins, at least this season. Today’s victory, combined with losses for West Ham and Blackburn (and of course Blackpool), will no doubt raise confidence and restore some faith: survival is certainly not out of the question.