Living in the North West of England, something you’re never surprised to see is inclement weather. Wigan artist Lawrence Isherwood painted street scenes to an almost exclusively dull, smoggy backdrop, whilst Winstanley band The Verve seemed to be obsessed with rain – see ‘Grey Skies’, ‘Stormy Clouds’ and ‘Valium Skies‘ for a small taste. One problem – there is precisely one person of northern descent in the Latics squad, and that’s our sub keeper, Mike Pollitt. Well, you could count Caldwell and McArthur in this grouping, but I guess as Scots they’re more used to snow.
Nevertheless, the club’s ‘foreign legion’ of honorary Wiganers ought to be acclimatised to a bit of autumnal weather by now, despite the rather lengthy summer we seem to have experienced this year. The need for points has become pressing of late, so will this change in the weather bring about an upturn in fortunes in the coming months? We can only hope, but for now, minds are fully concentrated on this afternoon’s game; what went right and, more importantly, what went wrong.
If last week’s improved performance was heartening, then this afternoon’s was totally the opposite. Not in terms of commitment, for it would be unfair to ask for anything more – the full-time boos were somewhat unjustified, as paradoxically Wigan’s best football of the season was to be seen in what was ultimately a dismal defeat.
Latics totally dominated the first half in terms of possession and created far more chances than the visitors. Indeed, it was a wonder that Wigan hadn’t scored by the half time break with Moses, Rodallega and Crusat causing Fulham’s backline all sorts of problems. There were long periods in which the Cottagers couldn’t even get a foot on the ball, such was the home side’s grip on proceedings.
Victor Moses was absolutely on fire for periods, but could not score
Despite having perhaps their best half for months, perhaps even the whole season, it’s just so flippin’ typical that Wigan weren’t leading at half time. It’s even more typical that they were actually losing 1-0. Dempsey’s goal was one of those moments that makes you wonder why you even bother with football at all – it never rains but it absolutely teems it down, soaks you to the bone and leaves you wondering whether you should go to the doctor to ensure you haven’t contracted Legionnaires’ disease. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad because it was only the single goal.
There was, of course, plenty to be positive about. Wigan’s attacking presence was far better than we have witnessed of late, and Watson, Moses and Caldwell could easily, on another day, have had a goal apiece – and even the most ardent of Fulham fans wouldn’t have begrudged the hosts at least one. The midfield gradually settled into what can only be described as dominance, the visitors allowing Latics plenty of time on the ball and sitting as far back as they could humanly manage before breaking. Luckily for Latics, it wasn’t that effective and too many misplaced passes meant each and every attack was patted back with some comfort. Except for the goal, of course.
Never mind, for there was still plenty of time to turn this game –and the season– around with a whole half to go, and boy did Wigan go for it. The men in blue threw absolutely everything into their attacks and continued to create some half chances which they sadly could not take. At the risk of sounding like a broken (Travis) record, once again there simply was no finishing touch to make the difference. Victor Moses, Hugo Rodallega and even Gary Caldwell had a go but as the minutes ticked away, no goal was forthcoming. More midfield dominance offered promise, and Fulham were well and truly being outpassed. But they were still a goal to the good, and only had to soak up any pressure Wigan applied. Oh, how Latics pushed.
Roberto Martinez felt the need to change things which, though predictable, is slightly questionable. After such a wonderful 65 minutes in which Wigan controlled the game, Albert Crusat was removed in favour of Franco Di Santo, which sparked the beginning of the end. Latics were never quite the same afterwards, letting the visitors back into things and inadvertently slowing things to a relative crawl. Whether it was a strategical error or another case of ‘running out of juice‘ (probably a bit of both), the Latics juggernaut dropped to well below the speed limit and looked thoroughly drained.
Gary Caldwell resorted to joining the midfield on occasion
By now the defence was attempting to get forward at every opportunity and increasingly vacating its post to leave Latics open at the back. Bobby Zamora could easily have scored to completely fell the hosts, but grazed the top of the crossbar. Ali Al Habsi was also forced to make a last ditch tackle as the backline pushed further and further forward to take advantage of the visitors’ increasingly deep-lying defence.
It was all beginning to look rather desperate, a far cry from just 20 minutes ago when it seemed as though Wigan would score every time they advanced into opposition territory. Their sprightliness and physical presence began to fade and the game settled into a more open contest, Latics still just about on top. Late sub Ronnie Stam saw to that, but it just was not enough to make any impact – i.e. scoring goals. Both Moses and Figueroa had hit the post, leaving many to wonder whether somebody up above was a Fulham fan.
By the time Dembele doubled Fulham’s lead on 86 minutes, the game was already won. In fact, Latics had pretty much deflated by the 70th minute.
In the end, it didn’t rain. In fact, the final minutes of the game were played out in partial sunshine, but there seems to be a permanent dark cloud looming over the DW Stadium at the moment. Wigan’s losing run stretches to… who knows how many games, and we’re fast gaining a (just) reputation as the league’s whipping boys.
To be brief (and goodness knows this is too painful to be reiterating over and over), this was a game that Wigan should really have won, but due to their own inability to score, fell into a predictable groove. Like a firework, Latics crackled violently but soon fizzled out. It would have been enjoyable, but when you have to do your Bonfire Night shopping at Poundland one has to expect disappointment.
On the plus side, if there is one, 2-0 was certainly not a fair reflection of the game as a whole, which Latics could have won. The hosts were the architects of their own downfall at both ends: firstly up front, where no real firepower was forthcoming, but also in defence, especially during that desperate second half scramble for goals. There is no doubting, however, that there are serious problems when you turn out the best 70 minutes you have played all year and still get beaten 2-0. You can bemoan bad luck all you like, but the sad fact is that we beat ourselves, and that really hurts. It’s only been ten games, but the Championship is starting to loom large for even the most optimistic of Ticsmen.