Is the sun setting on Premier League football in Wigan?
Two exceptional strikes from Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, each coming either side of half time, were more than enough to see off a lacklustre Latics. Though the Swans had Nathan Dyer sent off after 60 minutes, some resilient defending prevented the hosts from getting any sort of foothold in the game and by the 85th minute, an increasingly frustrated Latics were out of juice.
Swansea took a 1-0 lead into the interval, and it was just about deserved. The teams had exchanged blows for all of 46 and a half minutes before the Icelander’s perfect shot soared past Al Habsi to the obvious delight of the Swansea team, who orchestrated an impromptu 8-man playground pile-on. I’m surprised Sigurdsson actually walked away from the ‘incident’, which looked a bit of a gutbuster that would have probably floored me for a good half an hour. It would have taken three meat pies before I’d have even thought about moving; who knows, I might have even had to take Monday off work.
The goal, which occurred on the very stroke of half time, was a world away from Wigan’s toils, as shots on target were hard to come by for the hosts. They had their spells, and could have seized a 39th minute opportunity through Emmerson Boyce who, not for the first time, came storming towards the back post to meet Figueroa’s cross, but the Barbadian’s attempt was blocked just feet from goal. Di Santo, too, was inches away from heading home a superb Beausejour cross, but that was pretty much all Latics had to show for their first half endeavours.
The visitors had the more clear cut chances, most notably on the three occasions when Al Habsi managed to prevent Nathan Dyer from finding the net. Admittedly, one of them was a simple, low dribbler, but it was a stat indicative of Swansea’s greater competence in the final third – they looked the more likely goalscorers. Wigan will be left ruing their decision to back off and let their opponents play, the primary reason many disheartened fans chose to boo their team from the field. Of course, the goal can’t have helped either.
Conor Sammon (pictured) and Franco Di Santo applied some good pressure early on
Now chasing the game, Latics threw on Victor Moses, dropped from the starting lineup in favour of Conor Sammon, and Mohamed Diame. James McArthur and the aforementioned Sammon had given everything for the cause in the first half, but were sacrificed in favour of a bit more quality in midfield. At first it seemed to be working, because Alcaraz (twice in one move) and Franco Di Santo had some good chances to restore the balance, but the game was now very open, and any progress Wigan seemed to be making was tempered by a quick-breaking Swansea. When Victor Moses tripped Nathan Dyer on the edge of the penalty area, Sigurdsson was on hand once again to double his side’s lead and, ultimately, put the game beyond Wigan’s reach. It was a magnificent free kick, a piece of quality finishing Wigan could only dream of reproducing.
Latics were thrown something of a lifeline on the hour mark, when Nathan Dyer’s reckless challenge on (a much-jeered, from all sides of the DW) Jordi Gomez resulted in a straight red card. From my position in the East Stand it looked pretty bad, but I assumed it would only draw a yellow from Andre Marriner. Whatever the reason for the dismissal, which I’m sure will be supported/proven incorrect by extensive replays, Wigan suddenly had renewed impetus. Seemingly reacting to the crowd’s pleas, Roberto Martinez introduced Hugo Rodallega to bolster the attack line and turn things around – at this stage, there was still time. As the chances came and went, however, that remaining 30 minutes began to slip away rapidly.
Mohamed Diame played his first full half since returning from the African Cup of Nations
Frustration began to creep into the Wigan game. A minor tiff between Diame and Williams saw both participants booked, and you sensed the pressure was beginning to get to one or two of the Latics players.
Wigan continued their onslaught for the best part of 20 minutes, pushing everybody forward in a desperate attempt to grab onto something, anything. Di Santo and Diame had chances as the corners rained in on the South Stand goal, but none found the net – it was becoming one of those days for an increasingly weary Latics. Hugo Rodallega had Wigan’s best chance of the game, but when one-on-one with Michel Vorm, he only managed to fire the ball right at the Dutchman. A goal there and then may have put a different complexion on the remaining 6 minutes or so, but that Swans defence was not to be breached.
By the final minute of the game, Wigan were reduced to having Gary Caldwell deliver the crosses, a tactic that is almost always doomed to failure. But it isn’t his fault he’s forced to do a midfielder’s job. It isn’t his fault none of the others could find anything like a decent cross. On occasion, Latics had five men in the penalty box and, given a fantastic opportunity to get the ball into the danger area, decided to pass back to the half way line. This would be fine if you’re looking to take time out of the game, but when you’re 2-0 behind it’s the perfect way to get the crowd on your back. On each occasion, the attack broke down and a great opportunity was lost – no wonder people were cheesed off.
At one point in the first half (when the game was still 0-0), the East Stand rapturously applauded Jean Beausejour for making the decision to hit a free kick forward and try to challenge the goalkeeper, who actually fumbled the ball under no pressure. This was the story of Wigan’s attacking game, as although Moses had some success running at defenders, there was an indecision about the Latics midfield that ultimately made clear cut chances few and far between.
Another chance to haul ourselves out of the relegation zone missed, we’ve no choice but to concentrate on next week’s clash with Norwich, which, don’t forget, is on a Sunday. Clear your usual teatime schedules, because these games are becoming more and more important, and this will be another must-watch contest. It may not be pretty, but even if we’re forced to witness another horror show, you simply can’t change channels. Mostly because since Goals on Sunday ended, Songs of Praise is the only other thing on at 4pm, and you don’t want to endure that, do you? Well actually, I suppose that’s debatable.