Al Habsi, so often Latics' saviour this campaign, played an important part in today's proceedings.
Latics preserved their unbeaten record at Villa Park with a deserved point that could prove so crucial in the Premier League run-in. After a first half which saw both sides enjoy decent spells of possession and pressure, the visitors passed out the second half – but not without the odd scare.
After a cagey opening, Wigan had a dream start when Charles N’Zogbia finished expertly past Brad Friedel in the Villa goal on 10 minutes. Immediately following some good midfield pressing, Latics stole the ball and, through Victor Moses, stormed into the opposition penalty area where the Frenchman was waiting to strike with his left foot for his third goal in as many games. Villa were quick to counter, equalising just 7 minutes later via the boot of Ashley Young after Ben Watson gave away a needless free kick ten metres outside his own penalty area. Al Habsi will be disappointed not to have got to the shot, which was well placed but not with any real power.
The game’s second goal sparked a period of Villa domination, which culminated in an excellent opportunity for ex-Latic Emile Heskey who was unfortunate not to have found the goal on the volley from eight yards out. Not much has changed since he went to Villa, it seems. Ali Al Habsi deserves a vast amount of credit for his save, however, which would ultimately help preserve his side’s point.
Wigan weathered the Villa storm, which turned thundery towards the end of the half as a string of decisions went the way of the relegation battlers. Emile Heskey was incensed by ref Mike Jones’ refusal to penalise Gary Caldwell for what seemed like an elbow, so much in fact that he talked his way into the book and can count himself lucky not to have received a stricter penalty.
Jones was again at the centre of the action when Ashley Young was denied a penalty just minutes later as he tripped in the Latics area. Television replays proved the referee correct, and Wigan set about making inroads once more. They earned themselves a series of corners which could have seen them take the lead, but Antolin Alcaraz’s 45th minute shot was well blocked. This represented the visitors’ best chance of the half and suddenly, the game had sparked into life… but then the half time whistle went.
Buoyed by their relative successes in the first half, Wigan spied their chance and continued in much the same attacking vein. It would not yield much, however, and Charles N’Zogbia (who hasn’t often finished 90 minutes of late) would be replaced by Franco Di Santo. You get the feeling it was more forced than tactical, as N’Zogbia represented Wigan’s greatest threat throughout the 69 minutes he completed.
Sub Di Santo almost set up Hugo Rodallega for a possible winner as the Colombian saw his turn-and-shot go just feet wide of Friedel’s left hand post. The hosts could have won it for themselves if it weren’t for Al Habsi; when Darren Bent went one-on-one with the Omani international, you felt certain he would score. The Wigan keeper stood up strong, however, to deflect Bent’s goalward shot and the defence did the rest, clearing the ball for a corner. These would prove the main points of the second half, in which Wigan kept hold of the ball quite well.
It got to a stage where both sides looked to be happy with a point, Latics certainly as they passed the ball between themselves with some comfort. Perhaps Martinez was looking to next week as the big game, which could very well be make or break time. Should results elsewhere fall in Latics’ favour, a win against West Ham a week tomorrow would likely all but seal Wigan’s participation in next year’s Premier League. With my commentator’s hat firmly positioned upon my brow, is it a case of all your eggs in one basket or playing the percentages? I would certainly hope for the latter, and a comfortable Latics win for probable safety.