A late, late resurgence from a generally tepid Latics wasn’t enough to make up for a weak first half as Tottenham chalked up another relatively comfortable three points at White Hart Lane. The hosts dominated much of the game, and by the time of Wigan’s pseudo-comeback in the final fifteen minutes, the match was effectively over as a contest but James McArthur’s 80th minute strike provided some consolation for Bob’s basement battlers.
Come 7pm, attention centred on the Wigan starting lineup amid rumours of a possible last-minute Hugo Rodallega exit. David Jones returned to the squad but had to settle for a place on the bench alongside the much-discussed Rodallega, who would possibly be used as an impact player later on. In a mainly defensive starting setup, Martinez’s packed the backline and looked to erect an impregnable wall which would at least provide a firm base from which to perhaps launch a late raid. Note that I said ‘looked to’ there, for things would be rather tough without the still-injured Antolin Alcaraz. Actually, it would have been an arduous task for the best of defences, let alone our own under-strength backline.
Following the trend established of late, it wasn’t a great first 45 minutes for Wigan, who were under pressure right from the off. Tottenham could have been two, maybe three ahead by the half hour but for the odd piece of Al Habsi excellence and superb McCarthy goal-line clearance. The Latics defence could not hold out for much longer, however, and the hosts finally took a well-earned lead as Latics finally crumbled to let Gareth Bale in for a simple goal at the back post bang on the half-hour mark. Just four minutes later, Tottenham doubled their lead through Modric to tighten their already solid grip on the game and leave Wigan with the proverbial Ben Nevis to scale.
Latics had their own half-chances, most notably in the first ten minutes through Franco Di Santo. Having won his side a free kick around the halfway line, he was mere centimetres away from putting the visitors 1–0 up, narrowly missing Ronnie Stam’s deflected cross deep inside the Tottenham area. But the half was all about defending for Wigan, who held out for a good period before folding in disappointing fashion. Frustration was creeping into the Wigan passing game, and the Spurs showboating began as early as the 40th minute, an indication of how simple it had become for the hosts.
Forced into a change of emphasis, Latics set to work cutting the deficit as the second half began. Victor Moses shot a couple of feet over the bar from just inside the penalty area on 51 minutes, an attempt which sparked a good period of possession for the visitors, who now appeared a little more likely. Ronnie Stam and Jordi Gomez each got away a shot from outside the area, and though they were both non-threatening, Wigan were at least showing a bit of fight.
The visitors were now chasing the game, however, and finding it hard to make any headway in opposition territory as Tottenham remained strong in defence. Worse, the hosts were about to go 3–0 ahead as, on 64 minutes, Bale provided another quality finish to show the Wigan attack line how it’s done. Under pressure from Ben Watson, the Welshman slotted the ball past Al Habsi superbly to put the game beyond any remaining doubt borne out of the Wigan mini-revival.
Latics were now playing to salvage any scraps of pride they could from this lost cause, and at least gave it a go. Their attacking ranks were depleted when Di Santo left the field extremely lucky not to have broken his leg in a 50-50 challenge with Assou-Ekotto. He was replaced by Hugo Rod… sorry, Conor Sammon as the game entered its final, no doubt torturous final quarter of an hour. Curious, one would say, that the one attacker with the quality to really trouble the Tottenham defence would be relegated to Wigan’s third-choice front man. Deadline day politics, perhaps?
Wigan fans were given something to smile about as the game ticked over to 80 minutes when James McArthur fired his way onto the scoresheet from 16 yards. It was his first for the club, and seemed to spark something of a second wind for Wigan, who so very nearly made it 3–2 just minutes later as Ronnie Stam’s cross passed through Conor Sammon’s legs just feet from a gaping goal. With nothing to lose, Albert Crusat was drafted into the action with the visitors in the ascendancy. One sensed it was a bit late with the game already lost, but as the match entered four minutes of stoppage time, Wigan were at least showing some promise.
James McArthur went close to a second as the Wigan passing game really started to click; Stam was once again the provider as the Scot just couldn’t keep his strike down. In fact, by the final whistle, the Blues had had enough chances since McArthur’s consolation to draw level. It was the first half which doomed Latics, however, and another second-half draw was for naught but confidence heading into next week’s north-west derby against City-conquerors Everton. Said result goes to show that absolutely nothing is a given in this league, and though things aren’t looking too bright right now, you’d be a fool to predict how Saturday’s game, and indeed the remainder of the season, will turn out. One thing’s for certain: when you’re bottom of the league, you can’t drop any lower – at least not until May 2012.