Franco Di Santo and James McArthur were the heroes as Latics rode their luck, spied their chances and stole all three points in the dying minutes of what transpired to be an open contest at the Stadium of Light. Earlier, Victor Moses and Conor Sammon had been the driving force behind an improved second-half performance which built upon Jordi Gomez’s 44th minute equalising penalty.
Martinez kept faith in the same starting XI that oh-so-nearly orchestrated a win at the DW last week, with James McCarthy retaining his place after talk of a minor leg injury. Hugo Rodallega and Ben Watson would once again have to satisfy themselves with a place on the bench as Roberto’s new-look side set out to continue their unbeaten run (admittedly, of one game).
One goal apiece represented a decent half time return for what was, in essence, a Sunderland steamroller job. The only lacking aspect was that (Latics-esque?) finishing touch as chance after wonderful chance was carried away on the brisk afternoon breeze and sailed down the Tyne into a sea of lost hope. Or, as it is more commonly known, the North Sea.
Some characteristically iffy Latics defending helped the home side’s cause, but the Black Cats’ nine attempts on target yielded just the one goal – and that was chiefly due to a mistake from Ali Al Habsi. Kieran Richardson’s strike bounced just in front of the Omani, who could not cling on to the slippery ball. Sebastian Larsson was quickest to react, though to be fair there were two more Sunderland men waiting to pounce had the Swede failed to make up the ground. Hey, it wouldn’t be a Latics match without an early goal against, would it?
Hard to believe that Wigan actually made the immediate running. Victor Moses could not prevent his long-range shot from being deflected horribly wide, while Jordi Gomez also directed a firm strike right at Keirin Westwood. However, from then until the half hour mark it was all Sunderland, who engulfed the away penalty area like flies around a discarded half-consumed Ribena carton (it’ll make more sense a bit later on).
The aforementioned Al Habsi would atone for his error with a string of great stops within the space of fifteen minutes, first denying Richardson, then Brown and Bardsley. These saves would take on much greater significance when Latics drew level just a few minutes prior to the half time whistle (and even greater significance come the 95th minute, but more about that later). Victor Moses was tripped in the area by Sebastian Larsson to earn his side a penalty, which Jordi Gomez subsequently slotted away by sending Westwood the wrong way. 1-1, Wigan back in the game and with a new-found confidence that the outcome could be more positive this week. After surviving the Sunderland barrage, one would suggest this might possibly be Wigan’s day, but I’ve said that so many times only to be proven very wrong.
The Moses penalty came at just the right time to restore some faith in the Anglo-Nigerian (meh, it was so much easier before he opted not to make himself available for the Super Eagles) and in all probability was the correct decision from referee Kevin Friend, who has on so many occasions proved our ally. There was, however, a great sense of injustice among the home faithful, who believed Moses had either gone down voluntarily or slipped over a piece of litter lying just inside the penalty area. Indeed, there is the distinct possibility that this flattened drinks carton caused Victor to lose his footing, but in truth, Larsson’s leg was always the more likely culprit.
The second half was far more open, with Latics now looking to hit the hosts on the break. An increasingly impressive Conor Sammon looked to have got the better of Kieran Richardson in a footrace for the Sunderland goal, but opted to go down in an attempt to win a second penalty for his side. Though you don’t necessarily blame him, it was probably the weaker option considering Friend’s determination to keep the game flowing by ignoring the odd niggling infringement. Though Victor Moses was ‘fairly’ chopped down around the opposition area more than once, it was still a refereeing situation preferable to that of last week. Besides, Moses would get his own back when felled by John O’Shea, who was awarded a yellow card to break the string of generous advantages.
An initially subdued Sunderland were now creating the odd chance, and swung the ball across the face of the Latics goal on numerous occasions. Fortunately for the visitors, nobody was there to meet them and when Richardson did manage to get his head to the ball he only succeeded in putting the ball marginally wide. Lucky for Latics, but then you could argue we deserve a bit of fortune after all we’ve been through in the last twelve weeks. In fact, it seemed all the poor luck Wigan have experienced since August seemed to be righting itself in a large dose of Karma realignment.
Ronnie Stam, who had been penetrating on the right wing for 73 minutes, was replaced by James McArthur as Martinez looked to manufacture a winner. It would have to work for him one day, wouldn’t it? Conor Sammon was also replaced ten minutes later, but not before mishitting perhaps Wigan’s best opportunity of the half less than ten yards from goal. Latics fans will forgive him, for his enterprise had earned Wigan possession on many occasions, and he probably deserved a goal for his work rate alone. He was also my own personal man of the match. Not that that’s much of a consolation, but the final result may well be.
Di Santo picked up where Sammon left off, causing the Black Cats defence to panic with his chasing of lost causes, a one-man show with some help from any midfielder who happened to be around the half way line at the time. It was to be such a formula that led to the best chance of the game for any team, when subs Di Santo and McArthur teamed up to win the ball from Wes Brown deep into opposition territory with but minutes to play. McArthur played the ball through to Di Santo, who, just eight yards from goal and past the keeper, simply could not miss. He didn’t, and though the home side had time for one attack in response, it was to prove fruitless. Di Santo’s goal was the decider, and finally, after months of hurt, Latics had recorded a second win of the season.
I could harp on about how poorly Wigan might have defended, especially in that first half, but it scarcely matters. I don’t care if we defend terribly week after week if the results are forthcoming – after all, you are rewarded based on your position in the Premier League table rather than performances over the course of a season. Of course, you always want as strong a team as you can muster, but success brings cash which in turn brings better quality defenders. And attackers. And, erm, midfielders. Sad but true, the highly-commercialised world of modern football.
Wigan have worked extremely hard for such a win, and my goodness how crucial it is. It’s still a steep slope back to lower-mid table mediocrity, but four points in two games represents a huge improvement, at least in terms of results. Next week sees Arsenal visit the DW Stadium and, while nobody expects us to win, hopes are much higher than they were just eight days ago.
Finally, I apologise for the over-the-top post title. You can’t deny it’s attention-grabbing, however. See you next Tues- I mean Saturday.