July 15, 2024
Franco Di Santo

Fantastic Franco was on the scoresheet once more

Franco Di Santo
Cool finish: Fantastic Franco was on the scoresheet once more

It happens just prior to the closure of every transfer window: supposedly highbrow, intellectual publications transform into glorified versions of those 99p gossip magazines that usually end up covering the windows of abandoned houses. Renowned commentators become facsimiles of Jeremy Kyle; spendthrift clubs become bigger impulse buyers than a shopaholic on payday; online blogs become… well, they don’t change much, really.

But thankfully that’s all over for now, and there’s some actual Premier League football to drool/mull over once again. For next four months or so, we can enjoy (or despair at, as the case may be) our wonderful sport without the spectre of ‘Di Santo to West Ham!’ And ‘James McCarthy to Liverpool!’ hanging over us.

Hah, fat chance of that. Don’t you worry – myself (and, of course, the mainstream media) will find enough irrelevant dreck to pad out our weedy articles in the absence of actual writing talent. Sigh. Maybe one day I will be able to go a whole post without referencing my own continued vendetta against the gutter press. Sorry, er, I meant ‘tabloids’.

To bring football squarely front and centre (pages) once more, this was an exciting encounter certainly worth a watch be you fan or neutral. The only thing missing was a winner, but it would have been a bit harsh on either team had they lost – Wigan were largely better on the ball while Stoke created more clear-cut chances. By that token the draw was probably the fairest outcome, but Stoke came so very close…

Peter Crouch
Peter Crouch received some fearful stick as usual

Latics got off to the perfect start when Shaun Maloney slotted away a 5th minute penalty following Robert Huth’s handball. The hosts continued to boss proceedings until the latter part of the half, when d├ębutante Charlie Adam entered the fray. Wigan were also forced to make a change when Jean Beausejour picked up a niggle – David Jones, who impressed in midweek, replaced the Paraguayan. These changes were to have a marked effect on the remainder of the match.

The game began to shift towards Stoke, who were picking up plenty of fouls around the opposition penalty area. Soon they would be awarded one inside the 18-yard box when the ball rolled up Maynor Figueroa’s arm, prompting Martin Atkinson to point to the spot. Jon Walters duly converted, even if Al Habsi dived the right way (again).

Half time, concourse. “We have it in us to win this one.”

The home side started the second half as they had the first, scoring within 5 minutes of the restart. Arouna Kone found himself in on goal, but opted to hold the ball when he took a slightly heavy touch. He laid it off to Di Santo though, and one smart finish later Wigan were back in front.

The game gradually became more open, as although Wigan saw more of the ball they were often unable to penetrate an invisible wall on the perimeter of the 6-yard box. Kone, Maloney, Boyce and Jones all tried but no-one could grab that perhaps decisive third goal. Stoke were the beneficiaries, and looked increasingly threatening on the break as Wigan’s cohesion broke down.

Al Habsi portrait
Ali Al Habsi celebrated the birth of his second child with a superb point-securing save

A fantastic spell of Stoke pressure saw the visitors equalise through Peter ‘Offside’ Crouch, but it could have been so much better for them. Ali Al Habsi had to produce a top drawer save to deny Adam – the ball fell to the feet of sub Cameron Jerome, who could not convert from such a narrow angle. The England U21 international also got away a couple more strikes before the game was out, but fluffed his lines on both occasions.

Latics frantically searched for a late winner but were unable to get another shot away and, somewhat fittingly, the game finished with the hosts in the middle of another attack. Five more minutes and they could potentially have snatched a third –new boy Ryo Miyaichi was beginning to trouble the opposition defence, while Maloney was still getting himself into pressurising positions as late as the 93rd minute. However, considering how the Wigan backline was now finding Stoke’s height and exertion something of a handful, you’d have been happy to end the game right now.

For a neutral, the match had everything – goals, controversial decisions, penalties, ‘how did he miss that?’ moments, both traditional British and continental playing styles… I could go on. From a Wigan perspective, the afternoon was characterised by excellent spells punctuated with some heart-in-the-mouth moments, sometimes brought about by a breakdown in communication. There is much to be positive about, yet at the same time a lot to learn. In fact, it’s likely Martinez actually used that quote, or something similar, in one of his post-match interviews.

A more pressing question remains, however. Has Roberto Martinez fallen out with Jordi Gomez? Jones, Watson and Miyaichi all got a taste of the action, but the Spaniard remained picking splinters out of his backside on the bench. Or centrally heated car seat, whatever. But perhaps the Anti-Jordi Brigade (you know who you are) have finally got their own way. I hope you ‘orrible lot are happy. ­čśŤ

For reading this far, you’ve earned yourself a week off. Enjoy the England game next Friday and prepare your buttocks for much clenching on the 15th – it’s Man United away.

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