Latics climbed out of the relegation zone, albeit temporarily, with a battling away win against all odds at the Hawthorns. Though it wasn’t quite as smash and grab as their previous away win at Sunderland two weeks ago, it followed much the same formula: concede first before coming back strong to grab the points in the second half.
Wigan made one change as the previously suspended Antolin Alcaraz returned to the heart of defence, displacing Steve Gohouri. The Ivorian took his place on the bench for this afternoon’s game alongside Watson, Di Santo, Maloney, McArthur and Hugo Rodallega, whose recent lack of form has warranted a spell in the reserves. Conor Sammon was in the starting XI for the fourth game on the spin, his best run of starts since joining the club.
The sprightly Baggies could have been a goal ahead as early as the third minute, when Al Habsi tipped Chris Brunt’s piledriver onto the crossbar in spectacular fashion. This was representative of the first half hour, which saw the hosts threaten on a number of occasions only to be denied by the odd admirable piece of covering from the Latics backline. Make no mistake, Wigan’s early defending was a little scratchy, and but for West Brom’s lack of a finishing touch they could have found themselves one, maybe two goals behind. For all the hosts endeavours, however, they were still on level terms.
It wasn’t long before Wigan found themselves on the back foot. Gary Caldwell conceded a soft free kick on the edge of his own penalty area, and a masterful effort from Steven Reid put the home side into a deserved lead. His strike, which flew just inside Al Habsi’s right hand post, left the Omani with no chance.
Up to now, Wigan had struggled to make any attacking headway, but this was about to change. Victor Moses, who had seen two of his long-range strikes fly yards past Ben Foster’s right hand post, finally got one on target… right into the top corner of the net. It was a precise finish the likes of which we’ve been starved this season, and the Anglo-Nigerian’s first goal in twelve tumultuous months of football.
The equaliser was just what the visitors required, and confidence was now flowing. Victor Moses threatened a couple more times before the half was out, making some pacey runs through the centre of the Baggies defence. In some ways, Wigan will have been cursing the timing of Mike Dean’s half time whistle, in the ascendancy as they were.
With Latics now well and truly in the game, a spell of exciting, open football ensued. On 54 minutes, James McCarthy won his side a free kick just outside the Baggies penalty area. Though Wigan’s newest set-piece specialist David Jones only succeeded in rebounding the ball back off the wall, it proved to be a somewhat beneficial outcome. The visitors got the ball out to Victor Moses, who was impeded as he cut across into the 18-yard box by Steven Reid, and a penalty was awarded. Jordi Gomez sent the goalie the wrong way for the second time in three weeks to give his side a slender, but ultimately crucial, advantage.
There was still over half an hour to play, and the real hard work began for Wigan. All spotlights focused on their defence, who had earlier recovered from an indifferent start to show at least some control. They would genuinely have to be on their mettle to keep the hosts out for the remaining 33 minutes of the game as West Brom would push their resilience the very limit.
The all-out Baggies pressure forced Latics all the way back to their own penalty area, and for long periods Conor Sammon acted as a sweeper as they looked to repel a barrage of corners – the hosts finished the game with 13 to Wigan’s measly 2. The relentless high balls continued to rain in on Al Habsi’s goalmouth and six or seven waiting blue shirts, the ball bobbling excruciatingly in an around great shooting areas for the home side. All it would take was for the ball to rebound off someone’s boot, knee or backside and it would be 2-2.
Wigan’s £4m shot-stopper would be forced into another top-notch reaction save to further justify his price tag, denying Shane Long wonderfully at the back post. I swear the ball was already nestling in the back of the net when Al Habsi palmed it away magnificently, an integral save in the context of the afternoon.
The 80th minute came and went without a West Brom equaliser, but there was still much action in store. Wigan had made all their subs by this point, with Gohouri, McArthur and Di Santo taking their place on-field for the inevitable final Baggies onslaught. Though Latics were now experiencing a bit more possession and ate up at least some time with a bit of training ground keep-ball, the West Brom squeeze continued with gusto.
Roy Hodgson threw on former Latic Paul Scharner as he searched for an equaliser and the stage was all set for the Austrian to win his side a point at the very least. With just three minutes of normal time to play, he received a golden opportunity just yards from goal… and headed wide. But that was nothing compared with what was to come.
With fewer than 180 seconds to play, Graham Dorrans looked to have been fouled by David Jones in the Wigan penalty area. Mike Dean jogged across, pointed vaguely in the direction of Wigan’s goal, and for a few agonising moments it looked as though he’d given the infringement. To the travelling Wigan fans’ delight, however, the Scot was duly awarded a yellow card for simulation. Regardless of whether there was significant contact, it was one of those incidents that could easily have gone either way, but fortunately for Wigan it went in their favour. This karma is a funny thing, isn’t it?
The visitors survived a couple more corners and a late Reid free kick deep into stoppage time and, amazingly, Wigan had won the game. I wouldn’t exactly term it an early Christmas miracle as that would do many players a great disservice, but it was definitely a surprise result.
West Brom were the better side overall, creating five more chances and having far more possession in the final 30 minutes, during which you wouldn’t have begrudged them a goal. However, as any Wigan fan will be very quick to reply, you don’t win games based solely on your performances. Even Martinez commented post-match that the elaborate European style he so favours is no good if it doesn’t get you the goals. Does the recent change in formation indicate a shift in sensibilities, and subsequently in fortunes? I’d like to think so, considering Roberto’s comment about the Blackburn game being a demonstrable ‘turning point’.
The current Wigan squad isn’t the best we’ve ever seen at the DW (and perhaps even Springfield Park), but at the moment, they’re getting the results when it matters. For this the players should take huge credit, and the two consecutive away wins are truly deserved. It’s just a shame it’s taken four months for things to kick into gear.
Nevertheless, we’ve emerged the other side of a horrible run, by far the worst in Wigan’s Premier League history, with a clutch of points heading into an exceptionally tough run of games. One fully expects Latics to be back in 20th place once Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United have had their way, but at least there are some actual positives to take into that Christmas period. Who knows, we might cause another upset and take three points from one of those contests to boost chances of survival, perhaps even mid-table mediocrity. Well, now I’m being facetious, but it’s wonderful to be another step closer to yet another season in the Premier League.