Victor Moses was on the scoresheet as Latics rounded off a successful pre-season with a 1-0 win over Villarreal. The Nigerian, who’s been tipped by many –including myself– to fill a Charles N’Zogbia-sized hole, was set up wonderfully for an almost unmissable chance by Franco Di Santo seconds prior to the half time whistle.
But the path was not all smooth for Wigan, who had initially struggled to cope with their Champions League opponents. In particular, Nilmar da Silva caused many problems, and on more than one occasion, he worked his way through the home defence to draw a solid save from Ali Al Habsi. The Villarreal forwards hunted down the Latics back line and forced them into a few sloppy passes, most notably from Ben Watson, who was spared too many blushes as Al Habsi palmed away the subsequent strike.
Wigan would recover to carve out some opportunities as the half progressed. Jordi Gomez hit the crossbar from a free-kick just outside the area, and James McCarthy fired just wide from eleven yards out. Di Santo found himself with only the goalie to beat, but could not get enough power into his volley to trouble Cesar Sanchez in the Submariners’ goal.
All the while, however, Villarreal continued to pressure Latics, hitting them on the break to some effect. Nilmar went close once more, and Jordi Pablo sent in a powerful strike which Al Habsi punched over the crossbar. It was a truly open affair right up until the 45-minute mark when Diame and Di Santo teamed up to provide Victor Moses with a glorious opportunity. He didn’t miss, and Wigan went into half time one goal to the good.
The game was rather diluted in the second half by a string of substitutions, which saw pretty much all the Latics first team (bar Hugo Rodallega) get a run out. The visitors, too, switched things about with regularity, but nothing seemed to work for them. Chris Kirkland, who entered the fray at half time, had only two simple saves to make in the whole second period, and the central pairing of Caldwell and Adrian Lopez really weren’t given much to think about.
Latics emerged the brighter, and as time passed the opposition threat merely fizzled out. Conor Sammon replaced Di Santo during the break, and looked rather lively, causing Villarreal as many problems as Nilmar had done for the visitors in the first half. He could and perhaps should have had a goal to his credit when he found himself through on goal with only the keeper to beat. Sammon could not find the net, and the score remained 1-0.
Thomas, Stam and new signing David Jones were all drafted into the action at some point, and each saw their fair share of action. Jones in particular looked decent in the centre-park general role, almost as though he’d been at the heart of the Latics midfield for years. I suspect he would slot in there fantastically should Martinez decide to give him a run out on Saturday.
Wigan continued to cause problems down the left wing, Victor Moses now outrunning the Villarreal defence with relative ease. From one of his trademark forays into the area (who else have we seen do that in recent seasons?), he sent in a cross which, after a ricochet or two, could so easily have rebounded into the goal via the boot of an unsuspecting Sammon.
The visitors had one last trick up their sleeves. Giuseppe Rossi fired a strike past the right hand of Chris Kirkland only to turn and see the linesman’s flag raised – he was offside. With their last real chance gone, that was pretty much it for action in the Wigan half. To be fair, Villarreal deserved a goal on the basis of their first-half performance, but just could not find a finish. Apart from that strike, of course.
With only a minute to go, a trialist whose name nobody could fathom from the stadium tannoy (sorry mate) made a bustling run down the right wing only to be upended. This gave David Jones his first real set-piece opportunity, but the ball did not have enough elevation and just failed to make it past the first man. I think we’ll give him a few more chances on this front…
In all, it was a promising afternoon for Wigan. They were relatively lucky not to have conceded, but on the other hand may well have grabbed another, maybe even two. A reasonable crowd –populating both the East and West stands– witnessed a rather fractured game, especially in the latter stanza, but the first half saw some lively and sometimes end-to-end action which warranted the admission money alone. Most of the Latics squad were given a chance, including the absolutely massive Roman Golobart, an imposing figure in the centre of defence if ever I saw one. His contribution was limited to one misplaced pass, however, so the jury’s still out on the 19-year old Spaniard.
Ben Watson saw 75 minutes of action, and found himself with plenty to do in the first 30. As things eased off he was able to push forward a bit more, and settled into his usual role as the going became slightly more comfortable. Emmerson Boyce, who also got in a good 75, was energetic on the right, and certainly looks up for the challenge of another Premier League season. He’ll be integral to Latics, and will hopefully carry his good form into the season proper.
In the battle of the strikers, it’s still a close-run thing between Di Santo and Sammon. I know who I’d plump for personally, but you can’t deny the Argentine got himself into some decent positions and could easily have had a goal this afternoon. However, his scoring record hasn’t been the greatest and Conor looks the more natural goal-getter. This argument may ultimately be rendered pointless by the fact Hugo Rodallega will most likely occupy that sole striker role come 3pm Saturday, but we’ll see what happens. Who knows, maybe Martinez will surprise us all and go two up front?
And am I still apprehensive? Well, yes. But then I’ll remain so until Latics secure yet another season in the Premier League, such is the life of a Premier League football fan. We’re never satisfied, you know.