Latics conjured up a magical 45 minutes of attacking football, most probably their greatest under Roberto Martinez, to completely pummel fourth-placed Newcastle into submission by half time. Victor Moses first headed home Emmerson Boyce’s deep cross on 12 minutes before doubling his tally less than 120 seconds later. Shaun Maloney expertly finished off another superb Latics passing move on 35 minutes, while Franco Di Santo’s precision chip from well outside the penalty area found the top right-hand corner of Tim Krul’s goal in first half stoppage time.
Martinez drafted the influential Shaun Maloney back into the starting lineup, and Franco Di Santo, rated ‘doubtful’ prior to the game, recovered from his knock last Saturday to retain the holding centre-forward berth. Yes, Roberto had the luxury of reverting to the lineup that conquered Liverpool, Stoke and Man United – and it positively paid dividends.
The home side were quick off the mark, earning themselves a couple of corners in the first five minutes with some forward-thinking football. Di Santo and Moses had subsequent shots blocked and saved respectively in a period that set the tone for the remaining 35 minutes or so of the first stanza. Of course, Newcastle weren’t without their moments; Emmerson Boyce brought down Cheick Tiote right on the edge of the Wigan area, but Yohan Cabaye’s probing cross could not be controlled by Papiss Cisse, at least not with a hassling Antolin Alcaraz in attendance.
There followed a brief break as Demba Ba picked up a niggle in a hefty challenge with Maynor Figueroa, and a revitalised Latics (or at least Victor Moses) seemed to emerge the other side having retrieved their finishing boots from the bench. Emmerson Boyce worked himself some space on the right wing and delivered a dangerous left-foot cross to the edge of the 6-yard box, where Victor Moses was waiting to head the ball past a helpless Krul. Latics hardly had time to celebrate before they had the ball in the Newcastle net once more; a Jean Beausejour ball in from the left channel was initially blocked, but Moses was again on hand to mop up the spoils and snaffle his sixth of the season.
In the blink of an eye, Wigan had assumed control of the contest much as they did at the Emirates less than two weeks ago. The previously boisterous travelling support were muted somewhat, but not completely – there was still plenty of time for the visitors to mount a comeback. They did their best to retaliate quickly, earning themselves a free kick 25 yards out. Hatem Ben Arfa went close with his attempt, but the Wigan faithful breathed a sigh of relief as the ball rebounded off the stanchion just behind Ali Al Habsi’s left hand post and into the advertising hoardings.
Though the Magpies pressed, Wigan were still snapping at their heels like a hungry Rottweiler. There was a liveliness about their play, a confidence typified by Ali Al Habsi as he provided a Moses-esque ‘scoop turn’ to defy an advancing Demba Ba. Al-Messi would have to be on his guard, however, for Newcastle were slowly finding their way back into the game. Though no real challenging shots on target were to ensue, the Omani would be called into action to field a succession of crosses and organise his defence – the expected Toon backlash could happen at any moment.
Latics resolved to slow the game down a might, playing the ball about the midfield with great success. Egged on by a vociferous East Stand, they pushed forward once more, and the eager Di Santo won back possession 30 yards from goal. The Argentine duly played the ball through to Maloney, who cut into the area from the right and finished in clinical fashion with his deadly right foot. Another sublime goal to add to the afternoon’s collection, and a deserved third of the campaign for the assiduous Scot. If Latics were in command before now, I suppose a third goal represented, dare I say it, domination? They certainly exhibited great mastery in their finishing, and a 3-0 lead did not flatter them at this stage.
Despite the scoreline, Wigan hearts missed a fair few beats just under two minutes later as James McCarthy lunged two-footed at Yohan Cabaye a few feet outside the South Stand penalty area. Referee Mike Dean reached for his back pocket… and pulled out a yellow card. A less lenient official may not have cut the Irishman so much slack, as the challenge definitely looked reckless in real-time. Though nothing came of the free kick, Newcastle were now throwing their whole weight behind the quest for at least one goal to get them back into the game.
There were one or two groans as the fourth official indicated four minutes of additional time at the end of the first half, as the visitors seemed to be in the ascendancy. In the past five minutes, Demba Ba had two opportunities and Yohan Cabaye had just sent another free kick over Al Habsi’s crossbar from 35 yards out. Wigan tension soon turned to (yet more) delight, however, as the Kings of the Counter struck once more.
When Franco Di Santo received the ball just outside the Newcastle area, thousands of people simultaneously cried “shoot,” and the Argentine duly obliged. Now, you know what usually happens in these situations – the ball goes flying miles over the bar, the crowd raise an embarrassed smirk and try to forget all about the incident. On days such as these, however, when absolutely everything you touch turns to gold, you suspected things might be a little different. When confidence is high and your luck’s in, that audacious chip destined for the far corner meets no barrier, and all you hear is the magnificent sound of ball hitting net followed by a rapturous cheer from three sides of the stadium. The phrase “taking the Mick” comes to mind.
As Mike Dean gave three shrill peeps of his whistle, you’d have thought it was for full time if the crowd’s response was anything to go by. Well, it was to be expected; it isn’t often you see Wigan score four goals in one half, but the stuff of fantasies once again became a reality for a glorious 49 minutes you’ll kick yourself for missing. And it wasn’t as if the visitors were mere passengers, either – it’s just that Wigan had the finishing touch and quality for which we’d been crying out for three quarters of the season.
After the Lord Mayor’s (Maynor’s?) Show of the first half, Wigan would have more than settled for a low-key second. Nothing much changed, as Newcastle continued to push desperately for that first goal and Wigan remained happy to play the ball among themselves. The hosts were also keen to attack, however, and left themselves vulnerable at the back, something the Magpies tried hard to capitalise upon. But they were soon to find it really was not their afternoon.
Latics actually looked even better than in the first half, a consequence of them being four goals ahead and Newcastle’s increased tendency to push defenders forward. Shaun Maloney could have scored direct from a highly dangerous corner, but Tim Krul was on hand to palm the cross away for a throw in. Di Santo also had a go before Victor Moses almost completed his hat-trick on the hour mark, but Krul was equal to the Nigerian’s effort with a super right-handed save.
Wigan had a succession of chances in the same attacking move shortly after as the Newcastle goalmouth came under great pressure. Beausejour played the ball through to Moses, whose initial shot was blocked. However, the ball fell nicely for Di Santo, who also had an effort but there were too many legs packing the area for it to squeeze through. Though James McCarthy found the ball at his feet, he too saw a strike deflect off a limb, perhaps a torso, and rebound away for a throw in.
Newcastle had their own ‘how did that not go in?’ moment soon after, as Papiss Cisse’s left-foot volley narrowly failed to find the goal thanks to some Al Habsi acrobatics. They may have been four goals down, but their ambition was stronger than ever; minds were cast back to that amazing afternoon at St James’ Park last season, when the Toon scored four goals in the final 25 minutes to draw 4-4 with Arsenal. Could they do it again?
Franco Di Santo, who put in an awesome shift, was given a hearty round of applause as he left the field to be replaced by Conor Sammon on 68 minutes. Former Latics man Ryan Taylor was also introduced for the threatening Ben Arfa, but not before the Frenchman set up Cisse for a great opportunity six yards from goal. His header smacked into the post, however, and the visitors were denied a deserved goal once again. Yes, this definitely wasn’t Newcastle’s day.
After a spate of substitutions around the 82 minute mark, the game visibly began to die out. There was still time for a Conor Sammon opportunity to make it five, however, as the Irishman found himself one-on-one with Tim Krul. He actually managed to round the keeper, but could not poke the ball past Coloccini, who cleared off the line to deny Sammon his first strike of the season. Latics are not greedy, though. They will more than settle for a four goal win, especially considering an edgy draw would have represented a decent return against a top-four side. And hey, you can hardly complain about a clean sheet, especially when your opponents hit the woodwork twice.
As the final whistle blew, news filtered through that both Bolton and Villa had drawn their games with Sunderland and West Brom respectively. The upshot is that Latics move back up to 16th in the table and restore their three point cushion to the drop zone. With Blackburn and QPR both facing tough tests tomorrow afternoon, Wigan could be in a healthy position by the time they visit Ewood Park a week on Monday. Bolton have yet another game in hand, though, and are now unbeaten in three. A win over Tottenham on Wednesday would really spice things up, wouldn’t it?
This evening, however, shall be set aside for celebration, and reflection upon what is quite possibly Wigan’s finest performance in the Premier League, certainly under Martinez. And that coming after fantastic wins over Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool in recent weeks. The football this afternoon was scintillating, a passing masterclass with some wonderful goals and outstanding saves to top it all off. It deserves further praise, especially considering Wigan’s current position in the table; a team battling against relegation producing some of the best football in the league, against the best England has to offer. You may ask, “where did that come from?” The answer lies somewhere in between Catalonia and the north of England via Nigeria, Scotland and Argentina, to name but a few stopping-off points.
To put it simply, this could well be the making of Roberto Martinez as a manager.