Wigan were mere moments away from hauling themselves out of the relegation zone, but Juan Mata popped up on 92 minutes to rob the Latics of a draw. Controversy reigned as an offside Branislav Ivanović goal was inexplicably allowed to stand by the linesman, but a cracking strike from MoMo Diame put Wigan back on level terms with six minutes to play. The visitors, chasing a late winner, left themselves a little light at the back and Juan Mata scrambled the ball over the goal line deep into injury time to steal the points.
Latics more than held their own in the first period, causing problems principally through Victor Moses. Prowling in the opposition half, he fed on the odd Chelsea mis-kick and battled for the ball well. Franco Di Santo, too, did some great hold-up work to support the midfield which enjoyed a decent percentage of possession. Indeed, it was just over a minute of the game before Wigan had their first attempt at goal- a Shaun Maloney strike that sailed well wide of Cech’s right hand post, but it was a signal of intent from the visitors.
The sides exchanged shots, and although Chelsea’s time on the ball was spent mostly in Wigan territory, they trailed in terms of strikes on target going into the latter part of the half. Victor Moses and Maynor Figueroa had long-range shots, but both were comfortably saved by Petr Cech. Al Habsi, by contrast, had a bit more work to do with his saves, and was drawn into three superb stops before the half was out. Cahill, Mata, Sturridge and Drogba all tried, but could not breach the impenetrable Omani wall.
The second half continued in much the same vain as the first had ended with the Pensioners in the ascendancy. Al Habsi was drawn into yet another fantastic save from Drogba, but Chelsea’s finishing would only deteriorate from this point onwards. The 62 minute mark saw the game’s first real talking point. Ivanović converted Meireles’ cross from short range, but was stood two yards offside when the ball was crossed. The linesman, seemingly unsighted, would not budge despite the entire Latics backline sticking their arms in the air as soon as Meireles made contact with the ball. Upon a ‘gentle’ suggestion by pretty much the entire Wigan team, referee Mike Jones re-consulted with his assistant before ruling his indecision final.
The game’s dynamic changed almost instantly. Chelsea, previously pushing with great gusto, could now afford to enjoy time on the ball and see out the remaining 20 minutes or so. Not to be denied, Wigan made a double change which saw MoMo Diame and Ben Watson enter the fray, and the chase for that equaliser was on. Things didn’t work out right away, however, and Wigan were lucky not to have conceded a penalty when the ball hit Caldwell on the elbow of his outstretched left arm. Cald has made a bit of a habit of conceding handball pens this season, but considering the linesman forgot to bring his glasses we could say at least something went our way this afternoon. Just to further blot his copybook, Fernando Torres was erroneously given offside shortly after, but I didn’t hear many inside Stamford Bridge calling for the guy’s head.
Initially frustrated, Latics began to work themselves back into the game by winning possession in the opposition half. Not long after, justice was finally served as Mohamed Diame had the ball resting in Cech’s goal. He cut across the edge of the area, spotted his chance to shoot and let fly with a sweetly struck left-footed attempt that was never destined for anywhere other than the back of the net.
The game was perfectly set up for a grandstand finish, and both sides weighed in with their own efforts before the game was over. Fernando Torres was a pain in the Wigan backside, constantly stealing in behind the advanced defensive line, and when he managed to stay on his feet (think you need some longer studs there, Fernando), he was the source of one or two headaches. But the finish simply wasn’t there – all efforts either went flying way over the bar or were parried away by Al Habsi who, by the way, was the man of the match by far. Of course, he was on the losing team so that accolade will probably go to Ivanović or someone.
The game entered 4 minutes of stoppage time. Latics, sensing a late winner, surged forward once more. Gary Caldwell got away a strike at the back post, but it bobbled up and into the waiting arms of Petr Cech, who quickly bowled the ball out. As Wigan were short of numbers at the back, this was a real chance for the hosts to finally chalk up a (fair) goal for all their attacking endeavours. Torres delivered the cross, which worked its way to the back post where three Chelsea men were poised to strike. Juan Mata only had to gently tap the ball over the goal line, and Chelsea had pinched the game with less than two minutes to play.
It’s somewhat unfortunate that our willingness to attack in those final minutes was ultimately our downfall. Considering results elsewhere, a draw would have been an excellent result – it would have lifted us three places to the heady heights of 16th, but someone up there is adamant that Wigan make no progress in the Premier League table. Personally, I’d be happy with us staying in the dropzone as long as we’re out of it following our game with Wolves at the DW, but recent performances have certainly warranted some sort of visible reward.
Wigan didn’t really do too much wrong. I could sit here and write about how they should have held on for the draw, but the result of today’s game swung on the finest of sharp edges. One second Latics were a shot away from all three points, and less than half a minute later we were left with nothing but disappointment to show for what was another great away performance. The game certainly left a bad taste in the normally jovial Roberto Martinez’s mouth:
It is unfortunate we have to speak about [the Ivanovic goal] … The performance was outstanding, but we’ll unfortunately get headlines about the decisions… It brings an unfair feeling to the dressing room. The linesman had a poor day, he couldn’t see simple calls… You shouldn’t give decisions just because they are against Wigan, you should give them because they are correct. The ref was let down by the linesman.
[We] deserved a positive result, and that pleases me. We came with intention of winning the game, and were looking a real threat going forward. We got done on the counter in a very unfair situation … But the important thing to me is the manner we performed. — Roberto Martinez speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live
It’s certainly hard to disagree, especially considering Chelsea’s second goal was also technically (by which I mean certainly) offside. To (further?) complain about such things would be bitter, however, so we should now concentrate on Wednesday’s showdown with Champions elect Man United. Perhaps we might experience a bit more luck at our own gaff? I suggest we’ll probably need it if we are to get something from that game, but if we show the same team spirit and endeavour, we’re definitely in with a sniff.