Latics were outdone by a resurgent Queens Park Rangers side, who produced two superb goals and a well-placed penalty to see off their fellow relegation battlers.
Wigan looked every inch a bottom-of-the-table side in the first half. After the initial ten minutes, during which Steve Gohouri and Victor Moses both flashed the ball across the face of goal, the visitors were outplayed by an increasingly dominant Rangers.
The hosts fully deserved the two goal lead they took into the half time interval, but Latics were all too eager to help their cause. Helguson put them ahead from the penalty spot on 33 minutes thanks to a clumsy handball from James McCarthy, and it was only to get worse. With all but sixty seconds of the first half played, Wigan gave away yet another free kick around their own area. Though Al Habsi had earlier repelled a similar attempt, he was absolutely powerless to keep Buszaky’s thunderbolt strike from hitting both posts on its way into the goal. We’ve conceded some corkers of late, but this one must rank among the best.
It was a huge blow for Wigan, their passes inaccurate and confidence low. They did experience a hint of success late on with the long ball, but there was more than a whiff of desperation about Caldwell’s heaves up to Rodallega and Moses. The intricate passing play simply was not working and Latics looked a shadow of their former selves in the centre of the park.
It would certainly take a mammoth effort to turn things around now, but there was some hope – Wigan had finally discovered the value of getting the ball up to front man Rodallega. Sure, it hadn’t produced too many successful forays forward up until this point, but it was their best hope, a crumb for the visitors to salvage from what was an ultimately dismal 45 minutes of football.
The passes were now flowing better, but that long ball yielded no success – in fact, nothing did. Credit must go to QPR, but if you struggle to get any points against not only newly-promoted sides but outfits battling down in League Two, then you can most likely expect a season of hardships. Indeed, Rangers supporters will be the first to concede they have played better this season (though I suspect they can’t have scored many better goals) and lost. Not to belittle QPR, but the Wigan defence isn’t exactly the best at the moment.
Wigan endeavoured to change things in the second stanza, making a multitude of changes to try and inject some quality into proceedings. Conor Sammon entered the fray after the break and looked as lively as ever, while Albert Crusat and Ronnie Stam were also brought into play at various stages of the second half. The upshot was that the Latics lineup shifted to 4-4-2, occasionally venturing into 4-2-4 territory. This did help attacking play somewhat and the second half was a bit of an improvement (it would eventually finish 1-1), but it was a largely frustrating day in front of goal for Latics.
The one positive to take from the game is Hugo Rodallega’s cracking strike which brought the score back to 2-1 and with over twenty minutes to go, there was a possible way back into the game for Wigan. This was followed by a superb penalty save from Ali Al Habsi, but like against Bolton, it was ultimately in vain – the game was killed on 81 minutes by Smith, who had earlier replaced DJ Campbell shortly after the half time mark. It was perhaps the best goal in a game of crackers, but it came at the wrong end for the visitors. QPR celebrated a more than deserved win, while Wigan are left to further contemplate the daunting challenge of hauling themselves out of the relegation spots by May 2012.
It is difficult to make excuses or pick out good points after another dismal defeat, as Wigan’s relegation fight begins to show signs of a dramatic derailing. It isn’t quite over yet, not with four months of football to play, but one suspects Roberto Martinez will face his toughest task yet if we are to see Premier League football in the town of Wigan for 2012-13, which looks an awful long way away this afternoon. A win over Tottenham in our next game will no doubt sway opinions, but it would take something special for that to happen. The good news is that we have a whole ten days before that encounter, after which we may be welcoming back the likes of Jones and Alcaraz to restore an element of regularity to the starting lineup.