All in all, it hasn’t been that great a week for Latics. Though on balance 3-0 represented a decent return against an in-form Man City steamrollering everything in their path, Tuesday’s abject Carling Cup performance away to Crystal Palace was a horrible reminder that Martinez’s Plan B mightn’t be fit for public consumption just yet. Nevertheless, the Wigan Athletic First XI had a chance to put all of that out of their minds with a Premier League contest at Goodison Park this afternoon.
There was one positive to take away from Selhurst Park, and that was the fact no new injuries were sustained. Aside from Alcaraz and Gohouri –who will both be out for a while yet–, only Emmerson Boyce, who picked up a minor hamstring niggle against City, remained a doubt. Though depleted, the Latics back line looked a bit stronger than the highly experimental van Aanholt/Figueroa/Lopez/McArthur configuration we saw in midweek, with Gary Caldwell reclaiming his position in the centre of defence. That said, it was still a case of make do and mend with Lopez filling in at right back, a position it’s fair to say he didn’t exactly revel in.
James McCarthy was handed a start, and filled in for the absent Diame in the centre of midfield. Rodallega and di Santo both returned to their regular(ish) positions at the head of attack while Ben Watson, who made something of an impact from the bench on Tuesday, was back in his usual defensive midfield holding role. Boy, did we miss him. Chelsea loanee Van Aanholt, who’d put in a decent performance against Palace, was rewarded with a starting berth in place of Boyce, who couldn’t even make the bench.
All things considered, one felt a bit more confident about this Latics starting lineup, at least on the face of it. As we all know, however, confidence isn’t everything and performance is. Actually wait, let me rephrase that: “it’s great to have confidence and performance, but results are everything.” There we go – let’s hope Martinez is using that mantra when geeing up his men this season. Just to make sure, I ought to plaster it all over the walls of the DW Stadium and Christopher Park this week, regardless of the illegality of such activities. Hmm, I think I’d better write to Whelan for official permission first – not entirely sure if they have the facilities to remove spray cheese from wallpaper. Meh, it’d take far too much effort; I’ll go and rant on a forum instead.
Enough procrastination and false promises, for we’ve had enough of that down the years.
Everton bossed the first period –in particular the initial 30 minutes– but simply could not get those efforts on target. Al Habsi had few saves to make, even with the Toffees throwing everything they had at the Latics goalmouth. This was a theme which continued right up until the final ten minutes of the contest, the visiting defence proving sufficient if a little shaky.
Wigan had just started to find their passing boots by the half hour mark – all previous attempts at breaking the half way line resulted in Rodallega being offside or the ball being given away somewhat sloppily. Thus, it wasn’t exactly against the run of play when Di Santo scored on 31 minutes but it was a little surprising. From an innocuous Ben Watson corner, the Argentine won back possession on the edge of the area. Instead of playing it back to Watson, he opted to hold the ball and subsequently turned the defender, getting a shot across goal. Fortunately for him, it took a hefty deflection off one of the many bodies populating the Everton area and found its way perfectly into the top left corner of Tim Howard’s net for Di Santo’s third in as many games.
The hosts hit back right away with a renewed sense of urgency. Tim Cahill rose high above three Latics defenders to head against the bar, but the rebound fell perfectly for Phil Jagielka, who accepted his gift gratefully. They followed this with a Leighton Baines free kick which had Latics (and Al Habsi) scrambling, but the 1-1 scoreline remained intact.
Though still looking a bit dodgy at the back, Wigan continued to be competitive until the half time whistle, winning a couple of corners and a free kick. Additionally, Victor Moses was through on goal and, but for a fantastic last-ditch challenge, may well have got himself off the mark for the season.
Latics’ ascendancy continued into the second period, which saw the game settle down somewhat. This suited the visitors, who were now linking together some half decent passing moves. Franco Di Santo, visibly buoyed, really put himself around in the opposition third and caused much botheration for the Everton backline. Try as they might, however, the visitors simply could not score. Hugo Rodallega swerved a free kick three yards wide of the target, and an enterprising van Aanholt almost grabbed Latics a useful lead with a mazy run and shot from just outside the area on 77 minutes.
Just when you sensed a possibility that three vital away points could be there for the taking, an horrific final ten minutes put paid to the Latics challenge. It all started to collapse when Everton took the lead on 84, Apostolos Vellios’s accurate header beating Al Habsi from six yards. Directly from the restart, Wigan were unlucky not to have equalised through David Jones, who hit the bar with a deft touch from outside the penalty area. On balance of play, it would have been deserved – no side really dominated the second period up to this point, and Wigan had just as much of the play as the hosts.
Latics continued to push for an equaliser, but suffered the loss of Hugo Rodallega who sustained a knee injury as the game ticked over into injury time. A five-minute delay ensued while Rodders was gingerly extracted from the field, his leg in an ominous-looking brace. This seemed to deflate Wigan, as although Shaun Maloney was introduced to replace the Colombian, they simply could not get the ball back. The visitors sealed the game deep into added on time with a third against a now downtrodden Latics.
3-1 is a bit harsh on Wigan, who did their job quite well at a hostile Goodison Park. For all their promising play and (eventual) smooth passing –interjected by an unusual odd period of hoof-it-up long ball play– they just did not have the wherewithal to break the invisible barrier on Everton’s goal line in that second period. Nobody had the firepower to go out and win the game, to seize control and take three big points. It is disappointing that Latics could have had at least one, but came away with nothing at the end of an absolutely dismal week. Three games, eight goals conceded and last season’s top scorer out for who knows how long? It has certainly been seven days to throw on the bonfire. I wish you could do that with time periods, though I don’t think the neighbours would be too pleased.