Latics missed out on a chance to snatch three potentially profitable points in a largely even contest at a bleak DW Stadium. After Tim Howard’s howler resulted in a Philip Neville own goal, Latics went too defensive for their own good and soon conceded, super sub Victor Anichebe doing the business for the Toffees once again. A frantic final ten minutes saw no more goals and both teams will be disappointed not to have come away from this clash with anything more than a point.
Wigan looked to pick up from where they left off against Tottenham, and experienced at least some success with James McArthur at the heart of midfield. They certainly had their share of attacking play, resulting in one or two clear-cut chances for Franco Di Santo. His first was borne out of a superb ball from Figueroa, which found its way to the Argentine’s feet at the edge of the area via Sylvain Distin’s shoulder. Tim Howard was equal to Di Santo’s scuffed shot, pulling off a great reaction save at short range to preserve his clean sheet. Di Santo’s second chance came later in the half from a challenging Stam cross, but he was adjudged to have fouled Distin as he scrambled to get a shot on target just feet from goal.
At the other end, Darron Gibson could have given the visitors a useful lead on 40 minutes as gold shirts poured forward, but only succeeded in firing the ball yards over Al Habsi’s crossbar, much to the relief of a shivering home crowd. It wasn’t the best of halves for the Irishman, who had earlier miscued a strike so badly that it went out for a throw in some 20 yards from the corner flag. The Toffees looked threatening on the break, and managed to trouble the keeper more times than their opponents.
Wigan enjoyed slightly more possession and were keen on getting the ball to an energetic Jean Beausejour on the left wing. The Chilean was responsible for two or three wonderful runs into the penalty area which could easily have yielded success, but neither side did enough to take a lead into the half time break.
Everton began the second half without Tim Cahill, who had earlier sustained a knock in a reckless challenge from Jordi Gomez. Luckily for Wigan, the ref didn’t see it as anything more than a 50:50 challenge for the ball and Gomez escaped without even a ticking off. It wasn’t long before new boy Jelavic entered the fray to inject some purpose into Everton’s play in the final third, and they started to hit their straps shortly after. The impressive Pienaar was responsible for the odd break, Fellaini was a genuine threat but didn’t have that finishing touch, while ex-Latic Baines was joining the attack with more frequency as time passed.
Latics managed to see through this, and moved the ball about quite well but were beginning to fade in the final third. The introduction of Hugo Rodallega, David Jones and later Albert Crusat did much to remedy this as the Wigan lineup started to look a bit more like the unit of a month and a half ago. This forward-thinking play resulted in a huge slice of fortune we don’t usually see at Wigan, a freak goal that would give the home side a narrow lead. Jean Beausejour’s cross deflected off Neville’s leg and into Tim Howard’s arms – or so you thought. Somehow the ball had found its way over the goal line into the South Stand net, and Latics were, amazingly, gifted control of the game. Whether it was a piece of uneven turf or a genuine miscalculation of the off-break that did for Howard, the American’s defences were broken and the stumps went flying.
Somewhat predictably, though, the visitors were back on level terms less than eight minutes later as the Everton juggernaut rampaged forward once again. Although Moses and Rodallega could have doubled Wigan’s lead with a bit more class in front of goal, there was always a sense that Everton were on the brink of that equaliser. Wigan had repelled two corners, but could not keep out Baines’s third as Anichebe headed past a helpless Al Habsi and the game was well set for a frenzied finish. Could Wigan grab this game by the shoulders and start the road to survival with a winning goal? Would the Everton equaliser lift their attacking play and give them confidence to breach the Latics line once more?
The game settled back into the even battle it had been for so long. Wigan continued to try and pass their way to success, while Everton were eager to get the ball forward to three or four breaking frontmen at every opportunity, resulting in a rather stretched finish to the game. Baines flashed a free kick over the bar, while Wigan caused some problems in a packed Everton penalty area from a Jones corner, but that seemingly inevitable winning goal simply didn’t come for either side. Wigan finished the game looking for a pass into the 18-yard box as Jones was devoid of support, a small passage of play that summed up the game for the hosts. Though things improved when Rodallega was introduced, there was a general failure to get the shots on target and challenge a no doubt unsettled Howard.
Everton will feel they deserved more, and will, like Wigan, rue their finishing. They hadn’t had the best of luck as the referee gave more and more close decisions in Wigan’s favour, while that blade of grass –arguably the home side’s man of the match– which turned the ball past Howard must have been ever so slightly longer than those around it.
On the whole, Wigan probably didn’t deserve a win, but you don’t have to in order to win all three points. There was the chance of a victory this afternoon, but again, that last piece of the jigsaw was lost somewhere down the back of ES3, and that’s what places Wigan in dead last with less than four months of the season to play. In the previous campaign, it was Charles N’Zogbia. Who, if anyone, will step forward and bring that most important of all qualities to the team, the ability to score goals? Hopefully they will make themselves known next week in an oh-so-crucial clash with them there Trotters from up Horwich way. Something to remember before you answer that question: Diame is back.
Baines image credit: Nick @ Flickr