Newcastle 1-0 Wigan: Latics hit rock bottom, only way is up

Roberto Martinez

Contrary to what people will have you believe, Martinez *is* trying new things

Having already conveyed most of my immediate thoughts in yesterday’s live Twitter update experiment, I was slightly wary of posting a Latics-Newcastle match report for fear of repeating myself. Then I thought, “ah, screw it,” because that’s how blogs generally work, isn’t it? Isn’t constant wittering about the same old points over and over ad infinitum the staple content of many a web outlet? Well, this is certainly the case with Wigan Athletic, because although there was much improvement in yesterday’s performance, one feels it was the same old obstacle that prevented any potential result, and that’s the ability to score goals.

Wigan’s leading scorer of the current campaign, Franco Di Santo, was absent from the team sheet at 2pm yesterday. Many speculated that he had been dropped, but it would make no sense for perhaps our best player of the campaign so far (though Al Habsi would have something to say about that) to be relegated not to the bench, but a spectator’s role in the stands. One’s mind was put to rest when it was confirmed he is simply ‘injured’, and that he should hopefully be back for next week’s showdown with Fulham at the DW. The Argentine’s absence this week, however, opened the door for new boy Albert Crusat to make his Premier League début, and it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, he did the best he could have under the given circumstances, but is he a goalscorer?

Franco Di Santo

Did Latics miss an extra goalscorer in Di Santo?

Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh on our Spanish ‘Zing on the Wing’. It isn’t his fault he is being relied upon to bear the brunt of a relative goalscoring drought which sees us grasping for a clue as to how we should force that ball over the goal line. For all our improved attacking play in those first 25 minutes of yesterday’s clash, the finishing was sadly lacking. This, you feel, is the difference between the likes of, say, Victor Moses, plying his trade for Wigan Athletic or Manchester City.

Again, however, it is a bit mean to pick on one of our better performers this weekend. Moses caused more problems than anybody, and this faux 4-3-3 seems a lot more flexible and conducive to goalscoring, which is surely a step in the right direction. I definitely think we would have benefited from such a setup in one or two of those narrow(er) losses we’ve experienced this campaign and it’s good to have stumbled upon it before Christmas. One also feels that with Alcaraz back, the defence may be starting to settle in once again – it’s the first time for a long while we’ve seen our best back four back in action together. The Paraguayan featured prominently in pretty much everything Latics did well at the back, while Boyce and Figueroa were able to join the midfield much as they do when Latics are in their prime.

Antolin Alcaraz

Antolin Alcaraz: Back on form?

In other words, Wigan are nearing full-strength once more. This may even be the case as soon as Saturday afternoon, when hopefully a much-needed win will restore confidence and hope that this season may be a step forward rather than a leap backward.

However, there are still one or two gripes that may need addressing yet. The Caldwell long ball up to Rodallega seen so often against Newcastle (I count at least four instances of ‘Caldwell long ball’ in my live text updates from yesterday) is definitely a reaction to the criticism levelled at Martinez post-Bolton: “get the ball forward rather than passing it sideways.” That Latics did, as although the long pass has been part of Roberto’s repertoire for quite some time now as a much-touted ‘Plan B’, it seemed to be the primary method of attack for 70-odd minutes. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it did show at least some signs of success against the Toon.

Were Wigan stunted by the loss of Franco Di Santo? Would things have been different with two goalscorers on the field? These things we might have to wait quite a while to find out, but I shall refrain from apportioning blame for lack of a result this weekend. The fact of the matter is that it looks as though things are improving and, on the evidence of yesterday’s game, we may be close to knowing Wigan’s strongest lineup. Providing a slight improvement in finishing, I have a sneaking suspicion that next week may be much rosier.

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