Hot on the heels of a miserable seven-day period which saw three defeats for Wigan, this week has been a bit more positive. News that Hugo Rodallega will not be out for as long as first feared is a massive boost as, while the Colombian won’t be available for at least a month, we should see his return long before that mental Christmas period. Well, it’s always crazy around that time of year and we shall need all the bodies we can muster.
In slightly more bizarre news, the Evening Post has reported that “dozens of footballs” were pilfered from Christopher Park, leaving the Latics lads to play training games with invisible balls. It’s been a rip-roaring success, as Conor Sammon has never scored so many goals in a single two-hour kickabout session. Kind-hearted locals have donated spare socks to be rolled up and covered in newspaper as replacements, while Robin Park Tennis Club have also given eight tennis balls to be used while the search for the ball thieves continues. Our ball skill hasn’t necessarily improved, but five members of the squad have been granted places on the ATP tour. “I’m already ranked British #8,” boasted Ben Watson of his Wimbledon chances.
Despite equipment setbacks and a less than full-strength backline, a week’s rest will have improved confidence somewhat. After all, when you’re getting hammered, the best thing to do is completely put it out of your mind by doing nothing, right? I’m no psychological expert, but watching telly and eating pork scratchings certainly makes me feel better. Sometimes.
In the continued absence of Antolin Alcaraz and Emmerson Boyce, it was pleasing for Steve Gohouri to be deemed fit enough for his first start of the season. Patrick van Aanholt retained the left back slot, while Diame returned to his just-behind-the-attackers position. I would call it a traditional number 10’s role, but I don’t know if MoMo is quite up to that tag just yet. Maloney and Sammon deputised on the bench, ready to pounce should Martinez require a second centre forward at any point during the game.
It was a frightful first half for Wigan, who went into the break 2-0 down and quite lucky not to be completely out of it. Maynor Figueroa looked shaky in the centre of defence, and boy were Tottenham exploiting this; it was first van der Vaart who capitalised upon the Honduran’s error to put the visitors a goal up within four minutes. Then, on 23, Gareth Bale easily got the better of Figueroa to head Modric’s corner well past Al Habsi. He could have had another later in the half, but at least Maynor settled down to make some good challenges. He never looked comfortable however, due in part to his playing out of position, but mostly Tottenham’s relentless attacking play.
It wasn’t just Figueroa having problems. Latics were losing the midfield battle, and the long ball up to lone frontman Franco Di Santo just wasn’t working. The likes of McCarthy and Watson saw very little of the ball, while Diame struggled to make any impact. He did have one foray into the opposition penalty area, but found no real support and saw his run checked just metres from goal.
Though Victor Moses made a promising run to earn Latics a free kick just outside the area, and indeed could have scored from the resultant cross, he saw scant possession. When he did receive the ball he, much like most of his team-mates, only succeeded in giving the ball away. All of this amounted to precisely zero shots on the Spurs goal in the first half.
The second period was far more encouraging for the hosts. They looked a much brighter side, and were rewarded on 50 minutes when Mohammed Diame turned wonderfully to score with his right foot from just outside the area. A superbly placed shot, Brad Friedel had no chance. The Spurs defence may have been guilty of a slight lapse in concentration on this occasion, but Diame must get all credit for the finish. All of a sudden, the game was well and truly back on.
The visitors almost hit back right away, earning themselves three consecutive corners forcing clearances by van Aanholt and an improving Maynor Figueroa. Wigan saw through this initial response, however, and emerged the other side with renewed hope of a positive result from a contest that seemed all but lost just minutes ago.
Though things had improved markedly, Latics’ attempts were hindered by Steve Gohouri’s 63rd minute sending off. Gareth Bale, chief architect of many a Spurs attack, was upended in the Wigan half and Stevie G would have to depart thanks to a second booking. It proved a substantial problem, and Gary Caldwell had to do the job of two men filling in at right/centre-right back. Nevertheless, Wigan continued to push in the face of Tottenham’s wave of pressure and enjoyed some success with the long ball. The introduction of Conor Sammon and James McArthur on 73 minutes contributed to this, with both providing a bit of spark in the opposition half.
The sending-off was a great fillip for Tottenham, but though they pressed, they couldn’t get that all-important killer third goal. Sole remaining forward Emmanuel Adebayor soldiered on for more than 25 minutes after sustaining an eye injury in a tackle with Figueroa midway through the second half. He was very reluctant to continue, wandering over to the bench twice or more in the next fifteen minutes to say he could not. Big Harry, lacking in forward presence on the bench, nixed any chance of a substitution and the Togolese frontman would have to play on despite impaired vision.
The home side experienced a second wind with less than five minutes to play. Throwing everything forward and with the home crowd behind them, they created a great chance through Ronnie Stam who unfortunately could not find that final pass to James McArthur, who was surely in on goal. The aforementioned Scot also got away an ambitious effort from all of 40 yards, attempting to catch Friedel off guard, but the American was equal to it. Conor Sammon created a half-chance, bringing a long ball under his possession on the edge of the area before skewing his shot well wide for a goal kick to the visitors.
Wigan’s final opportunity came from a free kick deep into 4 minutes of injury time when Victor Moses won a foul just two metres from the Tottenham 18 yard box. McArthur laid the ball off to Van Aanholt, whose cross/shot was blocked. A tame end to a fiery ten minutes for Latics, which may have seen an unlikely equaliser.
Under serious pressure and with ten men, the second 45 minutes may qualify as one of the best spells of football Latics have played this season, especially in contrast with the dire first 45. I know that isn’t saying an awful lot, but there was much more urgency and attacking threat, even if shots on goal were once again few and far between. It wasn’t good enough for a result, however there are signs we may just be in the ascendancy after such a terrible couple of weeks. This was a top 5 (4?) side, after all. If you happen to find any of those lost balls, please return them to the club because we could do with just a bit more practice.