The Latics produced another late strike to rescue a deserved point against third-placed Chelsea. With but minutes remaining, Jordi Gomez was on hand to slot away Petr Cech’s fumble and cancel out Daniel Sturridge’s 59th minute sidefoot past Ali Al Habsi. In what was initially a turgid meeting, neither side really hit their straps but the second half was a much sprightlier affair which produced two goals and a modicum of excitement.
An unchanged Wigan were quicker out of the blocks, finding themselves with some possession in the first five minutes to settle their nerves. Chelsea countered with their own spell of dominance, but, like their hosts, could not muster any shots on target. Sturridge threatened, but saw two of his crosses headed away by Gary Caldwell in the space of a minute. Former Barca defensive midfielder Oriel Romeu forced Al Habsi into the only save of the first half, while Didier Drogba went closest for the Pensioners with a header just past the post on 38 minutes.
Wigan’s only shot in the first stanza came from Mo Diame, whose strike caught the wrong side of his boot and sliced wide of Cech’s left upright. Victor Moses was arguably closer to opening the scoring for the home side with what would have been the last kick of the half. David Jones flashed a decent ball across the face of goal and the Anglo-Nigerian was just inches from poking it into the net and sending his team into the break 1-0 to the good.
A relatively even first half –at least in terms of chances– made way for a similarly equal second stanza. Though Chelsea finished the game with marginally more possession (47%-53%), their inability to create the chances was reminiscent of Wigan just one month ago. Fortunes are beginning to change at the DW however, and one should write them off at one’s own peril.
The major difference between the halves was those shots on target, of which both sides enjoyed a fair number; in fact, 18th placed Wigan edged this particular battle 7-5. It was Chelsea, however, that took the lead –almost out of nowhere– 14 minutes into the half through the on-form Daniel Sturridge. The England hopeful latched onto a fantastic ball from Ashley Cole, cut through Figueroa and Jones as if they weren’t there and produced a top-drawer finish from a relatively acute angle. Al Habsi can be branded slightly guilty of letting the ball slip just past his right hand, but one should take nothing away from the finish, which would probably have beaten a number of international goalkeepers. Even more remarkable was the fact Chelsea were down to ten men at the time – Frank Lampard had just jogged off to receive treatment for his bleeding mouth.
Cue the Wigan fightback, which gradually gathered momentum from that 58th minute goal to Martin Atkinson’s final whistle. Chelsea almost immediately withdrew their second attacker to bolster defences and eventually resolved to sit deep, letting Wigan come at them. This was the home side’s opportunity to grab a point, maybe even three, from this contest. Gifted a good spell of possession, Latics set about running at the opposition backline to try and further trouble the as-yet unbreached solid blue brick wall.
Juan Mata’s 66th minute departure signalled a Wigan charge with shots from James McCarthy and the recently introduced Franco Di Santo raining in on the Chelsea goal. Also drafted into the fray was the lesser-spotted Rodders, who helped set up the aforementioned Di Santo opportunity, which was deflected wide of Cech’s goalmouth by Branislav Ivanovic.
The visitors, who had dominated possession for large parts of the game, now found themselves in a huge fight to defend their lead. Realising this, the home faithful began to outsing Chelsea’s travelling support once more and became more vociferous as the potential for an equaliser increased. Though time was ebbing away, you felt this game was far from over – even with less than five minutes of normal time to play.
In another foray into the opposition penalty area, Hugo Rodallega knocked the ball in the general direction of Petr Cech, who couldn’t quite hold onto it. Victor Moses, who was in the vicinity, may have sown a seed of doubt in the Czech’s mind simply by being in his eyeline. Whatever the case, the ball bobbled across the six-yard box, just begging to be placed into that open goal. Jordi Gomez duly obliged, snaffling his fourth in five games and restoring the balance with a simple finish.
With four minutes of stoppage time yet to play, the game was still there for the pinching, and Wigan could have done it. Franco Di Santo had a late, late headed chance but could only steer the ball about twelve feet wide of the South Stand goal. Though Chelsea poured forward one more time, they could not gather enough energy to retaliate and the game came to an end with 1-1 a fair reflection of 94+ minutes of play at the DW Stadium.
In a further example of karma rebalancing, Latics could so easily have lost the game had Chelsea been more their usual selves in creating chances. On the other hand, Wigan were enterprising, never gave up and spotted their opportunity to equalise. It could have been even better, but let’s not be too greedy – I, and many thousands of Wigan fans, will certainly have accepted a point before kickoff this afternoon, and it’s a great result on a day when teams around us failed to make headway. I didn’t ever think we’d be pulling away from Bolton and Blackburn this afternoon, so chalk this one up as another successful weekend.
The worm is beginning to turn, so here’s hoping it’ll be pointing firmly in the other direction when Wigan beat Liverpool 2-1 on Wednesday evening. Now that‘ll be a Chrimbo pressie and a half.