In an historic contest, Wigan Athletic were the visitors as a thoroughly modern Liberty Stadium played host to the English Premier League’s first match outside England. If the FA were using it as a gauge for the ‘39th game‘ proposal, I don’t think they would have been too impressed, at least not by the scoreline. Fans of the two clubs were kept reasonably engaged, however, and each will be convinced their side should have secured the full three points in what became a topsy-turvy battle.
The first half really was a nonentity, at least where the visitors were concerned. For the vast majority, Latics found themselves chasing possession and struggling to win the 50—50 balls, and can count themselves lucky not to have conceded. That said, serious shots on target for either side were few and far between, only Al Habsi drawn into the odd half-save and punch clear.
After a period of extended domination by the hosts, during which Wigan were deprived of the ball for the best part of a quarter of an hour, the visiting team finally arrived at the ground on 40 minutes. Luckily for Latics, they were still at 0—0, but now without Antolin Alcaraz who had to depart on 37 minutes with a dodgy leg. Ronnie Stam was his replacement, and took up his position at right back.
But Latics were now looking a bit more likely, and earned themselves a couple of corners which threatened to cause problems — Victor Moses, perhaps predictably, the chief architect. The passes started to reach their destination, and the first half came to a close just as the visitors were working their way back into things.
The pendulum soon swung back in Swansea’s direction, however, as the hosts continued to attack Wigan down the right wing. Somehow, despite increasing pressure in the Latics half, the Swans were kept out. Most shots on Al Habsi’s goal were right at the Omani and relatively easy, only one real strike of note forcing him into a save away to his right.
The turning point came on 64 minutes, when James McCarthy was replaced by James McArthur. He had an immediate impression, injecting some urgency and power into the thus-far largely insipid midfield. Rodallega, who once again started the game on the subs’ bench, was introduced shortly after, and Latics’ game really kicked into gear.
Jordi Gomez had just hit the post with an almost perfect volley over Vorm in the Swansea goal, and now Wigan were streaming forward with Moses unleashing a powerful shot that rebounded off the underside of the crossbar. Directly from this, Jordi Gomez was fouled just inside the area and Latics, for the second week in succession, had a penalty. Unfortunately, however, Ben Watson’s strike was less successful this time round, presenting Vorm with a save low to his right. It was a great stop, but I think Watson will be disappointed not to have done better, especially considering his excellent spot-kick record.
Latics could not have hoped for a better opportunity, but just like seven days ago, will be left to dwell on missed chances. Once again, Victor Moses was in superb form and deserved a goal, but will have to wait until next week’s visit of QPR for another chance to get off the mark this campaign. Wigan’s hosts will also be slightly aggrieved not to have grabbed all three points, and will rue a host of missed chances. With luck in their favour, this could easily have been a Swans victory as much as it could have been Wigan’s.
No doubt Martinez has learned much from his day out in South Wales, and James McArthur will be pushing for a starting berth in the centre of midfield after his good performance from the bench. At the moment, things are not quite “there”, but Hugo Rodallega will hopefully be fit to take his place in the starting XI and Wigan will get their season going with a first win.
Ordinarily, a Carling Cup 2nd Round tie would be imminent, but due to matters more pressing than football, Crystal Palace and Crawley Town have yet to play their First Round game. We shall face one of the two aforementioned teams at some point in the future, but Wigan will have to go without that extra game to help them get up and running. Let’s hope things click into place anyway.