Certain sections of the mainstream media seem to be under the impression that football is all about superstars. Sure, it might be watching Cantonas and Zolas that gets you into the game in the first instance, but the longer you watch, the more you realise it’s about much more than that. In the past month, Eden Hazard has garnered ten times the column inches that Emmerson Boyce and Maynor Figueroa have in their entire careers. But where would our ‘Azzer be without a good team to make him look awesome? Every sole at St Mary’s played their part in this afternoon’s contest, be it the players, the officials or the thousands of fans cheering on their respective teams.
Future superstar Victor Moses may be departed, but the Latics management team have done a great job of concocting a contingency plan. What of Callum McManaman, or Fraser Fyvie? And Ryodinho, how long will it be before we see him don the Wigan shirt? Moses was just one cog in the machine, and with Shaun Maloney pulling the levers one suspects a number of configurations would be made to work. The only problem is keeping the man fit enough to play – I don’t think it’ll be long before the Latics Supporters Club start a collection to buy him a comfy, joint-soothing armchair.
At this point I’m tempted to cart out that oft-cited phrase, “there are no easy games in the Premier League”. It goes without saying these days, and too many people (myself included) are all too adept at stating the blooming obvious. Long gone are the days of newly-promoted teams being absolutely tonked week after week, understrength and underfunded clubs wingin’ it in the big leagues (Wigan being the exception of course). As the gap to the top 4 widens, the jump between divisions is ever narrowing and it makes for some exciting football.
The first half wasn’t necessarily that captivating, with both teams taking time to feel their way into the game. Ali Al Habsi was called into action to tip a 13th minute Adam Lallana thunderbolt onto the bar, but that was the most energetic either keeper would have to get. Kelvin Davis was relatively untroubled in the opposite goal, only a (misdirected) Franco Di Santo header late in the half making him even think about saving.
That said, the Saints did much of the early running, and were tad unlucky not to create more clear-cut opportunities. Some last-gasp Latics blocking, akin to the kind of defence we saw from England in the Euros, kept Al Habsi’s gloves unblemished for the most part.
Wigan began to claw back possession as the hosts’ long balls increasingly failed to find their target, and started to make some headway in the opposition half. However, there was no doubting it was Southampton who would have been the more content as they tucked into their half time cucumber sandwiches.
Things were soon to become decidedly more stimulating, especially from a Latics point of view. The visitors kicked into gear pretty much from ref Taylor’s whistle, immediately looking to press a little higher up the field. But the half’s first real chance fell to the Saints, as Al Habsi stretched to palm away a well-directed Rickie Lambert header.
Wigan took control of the game on 50 minutes, however, as Franco Di Santo capped off another smooth passing move by converting Shaun Maloney’s delicious through ball. The finish was just as accomplished and Latics were off the mark for the season.
Their authority well and truly stamped on this contest, the visitors started to really impose themselves. Al Habsi continued to be challenged, though, and pulled off a number of tasty saves to keep his clean sheet intact. While it is true that conditions forced both keepers to err on the safe side by opting to punch rather than catch, resulting in the odd ‘television save’, the likes of Dan Fox and Adam Lallana certainly made the Omani work for his oats.
As the minutes passed, however, Southampton’s challenge began to fade. Of course, they kept themselves in the hunt with the odd half-decent attack, but could not sustain the level of threat that caused Wigan so many problems in the first 45. Unfortunately, they were also prone to one or two defensive mistakes, and with a predatory Ivorian patrolling Southampton’s half, it could have spelled disaster at any moment. On 89 minutes, it did.
Arouna Kone capitalised on a slight hesitation by Jose Fonte, essentially mugging him for a free one-on-one with the keeper. He slotted the ball past Kelvin Davis and added some sherbet topping to the increasingly appetising dessert. Although Fonte had a superb chance to (partially) make up for his mistake in the game’s dying seconds, his volley would have been mere consolation. Southampton deserved a goal, but it was sadly not forthcoming on this rather wet summer’s afternoon.
Don’t get me wrong – Wigan were worthy victors, but the hosts’ endeavours could, and maybe should, have yielded more success. Last week, Latics couldn’t finish. Today, it was the Saints that struggled in front of goal.
Kone image licensed under Creative Commons by Jean-Marc Liotier