Al Habsi pulled off a couple of top saves, but was mostly powerless
Wigan suffered a miserable defeat in even worse conditions at the DW Stadium, partly due to their own defensive frailties but also because of Sunderland’s sheer excellence in front of goal. Though the hosts enjoyed a great first half, they would go into the break 1-0 down and failed to find an answer to the Black Cats’ immense finishing as 2012 got off to the worst possible start.
Latics really went for it in the first stanza, and could so easily have taken the lead as early as the tenth minute when Steve Gohouri forced a goal line clearance from Craig Gardner. The home side settled down to boss the game, getting the ball on the turf and keeping some possession. The undoubted chance(s) of the half fell first to David Jones, who cut his way superbly through the penalty area and beat Mignolet, only to see his strike hit the post. From the resulting rebound, Ronnie Stam played a fantastic ball through to Watson, who emulated Jones’ effort by almost immediately hitting the other post.
The lively Albert Crusat, starting in place of a rested Victor Moses, impressed in his 38 minutes on the field of play. He would have to be replaced by said Anglo-Nigerian when he suffered a somewhat innocuous knock in the back, but it didn’t stop the Latics pressure. Opportunities would also fall to Gomez and the dangerous Jones before the half was out, but the Black Cats keeper was equal to both. Wigan did not want this half to end… or did they? Conditions had become almost unplayable by this point as what seemed like a hurricane swept across the DW Stadium. All sensible football went out the window as both teams humped the ball around, evidently waiting for the half time whistle.
Under cloak of heavy rain, Sunderland delivered the sucker punch, a real telling blow from which Wigan never really recovered. Bendtner won a slightly suspect free kick on the edge of the area, which Gardner struck home with immense power and placement. A cracking free kick, but Wigan really did not deserve it after dominating the half, and if climactic conditions continued the same way, it would be difficult to see any sort of goals, or even anything. Though the weather cleared to restore visibility, many will be wishing it did not.
Confidence well and truly shot, it all went downhill from there for Latics. They gave it a go, but one felt it was a losing battle, especially with a constantly shifting formation that featured fewer and fewer defenders. After Jones’s screw-up on the edge of his own area, McClean capitalised in the best (worst?) way possible – by sticking it in the onion bag and doubling his side’s lead. Sunderland are on such great form of late they weren’t about to miss, but it was, at least in part, a self-imposed punishment. 2-0, and from a position of relative strength, Latics found themselves seriously chasing the game.
Victor Moses and Momo Diame (above) were rested, but both saw action from the bench
Hugo Rodallega got one back for Latics –his long-awaited first of the season– on 62 minutes, but the hosts’ gung-ho attitude was always liable to lead to self-destruction. Conor Sammon was introduced in favour of Stam, an indication that Martinez was adopting a more attacking tactic. The problem with such strategies, however, is that they leave you open at the back, and that almost-too-inevitable landslide of goals was only a moment away. Sessegnon put the game beyond doubt, while Vaughan’s 80th minute untouchable thunderbolt capped an awesome game for the visitors, riding the crest of a wave all the way to a fourth game unbeaten.
Wigan were shattered by the third goal and, much like Martinez sides of seasons past, completely went to pieces upon concession of the fourth. The visitors dealt with the harsh northern weather by far the better and steamrollered a helpless Wigan in a storming 45 minutes of football. The hosts didn’t capitalise on their dominance in the first stanza and were made to pay, big style.
Though Latics controlled the midfield, the game was lost elsewhere. Just when you think the is on the way up again, a string of defensive cock-ups leads to a result such as this. It was almost incongruous, a frustrating game at both ends in a sea of generally positive performances. With Man City next up in the league, it’s gonna take quite a bit of work to clean up such a mess in time for what will likely be a case of damage limitation.
On the plus side, there’s the small matter of an away cup tie to come, which will be the perfect opportunity for some experimentation. The likes of Maloney and Lopez may get run-outs; there is no word on Callum McManaman, who’s still at Blackpool for the time being but could be recalled at any moment. Another thing’s in our favour – with Caldwell returning to the centre of defence, we’ll be able to revert back to that lineup that has served us so well of late. A good point, actually – why did we switch things about in such an important game? Impending African Cup of Nations or no, you’ve got to field your best possible team when fighting against the drop.