Latics battled their way to another well-earned point at a noisy Britannia Stadium. The visitors took the lead late in the first half and things were going swimmingly right up until Caldwell’s 76th minute sending off, which began a frantic 20-minute period with two penalties and three goals.
Hugo Rodallega returned to the Latics first team ahead of Conor Sammon, who could have started as the red card he received at Old Trafford last week was rescinded by the FA. In a rare change of lineup, however, Martinez opted for the Colombian, and will be glad he did as Rodders had a big hand in his side’s first goal. Victor Moses was the beneficiary, stealing in to slot away his second of the season off the underside of the crossbar bang on 45 minutes. Hugo provided the cross from the right wing, and for once a Wigan man was ready and waiting to knock home a great ball across goal.
The visitors weathered much of Stoke’s early pressure, but their job was made easier by the lack of shots on target. That’s not to say Al Habsi and the Wigan defence didn’t have anything to do, however – far from it. The Omani shot-stopper was called into action on numerous occasions to parry the many high balls into his goalmouth, and Caldwell and Alcaraz were made to hammer the ball clear more than once.
Wigan’s typical breakaway strategy was somewhat tempered by the challenge of a narrow pitch, Moses forced to come infield and pass backwards more often than not. On the other wing, Stam experienced some success, but by the 41st minute he was sufficiently frustrated to wallop the ball into the stand and received a yellow card for his troubles. He needed not worry too much, though, because Wigan were to end the half 1-0 to the good thanks to a well-worked Moses goal.
Latics went slightly more defensive in the second half, keeping hold of the ball wherever possible and ensuring the first 15 minutes passed by without incident. Then, just before the hour mark, Robert Huth’s third chance of the game was headed against the post and into Al Habsi’s waiting arms. It was the closest Stoke had come, but the Wigan clean sheet just about remained intact.
Diame, Figueroa and Rodallega persisted with long-range shots, but they rarely challenged Sorensen. Stoke were more effective going forward, and those high balls continued to test the Wigan backline, which by now was increasing in numbers. Try as they might, the hosts could not breach Al Habsi’s invisible wall… until the 75th minute. Cameron let rip from close range, but saw his strike rebound off one of Caldwell’s outstretched arms. For the second time in three games, the Scot had cost his side a penalty, and this time things were to get worse. Whereas he was spared a red card last Wednesday, Caldwell all but denied a goalscoring opportunity on this occasion and received a deserved early bath. It was a real blow, as the Latics defence seemed to be holding pretty firm up until this point, and especially so considering Jonathan Walters promptly rattled the ball home. Charlie Adam take note – that’s how to take a pen.
Wigan’s first choice penalty taker Jordi Gomez was sacrificed to patch the hole left by Caldwell as Steve Gohouri took his place. This particular substitution would take on some relevance a bit later on, but for now the Wigan goal was under some real pressure. The almost inevitable ensued, as Jerome’s perfectly placed finish put the Potters 2-1 ahead on 83 minutes. One would have thought the game was won, but you would have thought wrong.
The visitors never gave up hope of an equaliser, and continued to push forward. In fact, it was only three minutes after Jerome’s goal that they were thrown a lifeline: Hugo Rodallega was adjudged to have been fouled in the opposition area by Ryan Shotton, and Wigan had a penalty of their own. But who should take it? Gomez had been sitting on the bench for almost ten minutes, but there was another option. In an American football-style change, Martinez threw on Ben Watson –who already had two from the spot this season– to take the pen. It proved to be the switch of the afternoon, as Watson emphatically sent Sorensen the wrong way and, with only a few minutes left to play, ten-man Latics were back in the game.
As the fourth official signalled for five minutes of stoppage time, this contest still had some mileage to run. A Hugo Rodallega corner was the closest Wigan came to threatening, but it was easily cleared by Marc Wilson and the Stoke seige was back on. A string of trademark long throws from Rory Delap made a ten-man Wigan defence work for their point, but they also served the purpose of eating up any remaining time. Kenwyne Jones was introduced on 92 and the seconds further ticked away, helping the Wigan cause no end.
After Delap saw a final cannonball throw successfully defended, ref Michael Oliver brought this lively contest to an end. Wigan will be much happier with a point, having had Caldwell sent off, but for a long time it seemed things would be so much more favourable. There was a period immediately following half time when the confidence was flowing and Stoke’s defenders were pulling out of challenges and backing off any runs from midfield. Perhaps this was the time to capitalise and take control, Wigan’s best opportunity to manufacture three points.
A point each, though, is probably the fairest outcome as Wigan were better in the first half, while Stoke bossed the second. Besides, everybody would have wanted their money back if the score wasn’t 2-2.
From a Wigan point of view, perhaps most promising was the performance of Hugo Rodallega, a man we have really missed for the most part of this season. He had a hand in both goals, and is my bet for that centre-forward starting berth on Tuesday evening. With a full compliment of eleven men, Latics fans remain hopeful things will fall into place for a well-timed win against Sunderland, who remember, have to play tomorrow afternoon.