I keep mentioning it, but last season’s September-November ‘blip’ was such a prominent event you can’t help but constantly reference it. Heaven knows the media love to, though common consensus is that such talk is all about winning popularity contests and/by selling chip paper. Which reminds me, I must remember to try out Sharpy’s before I get too fat on Wispa Golds and have to go on a diet.
One sensed a single win might go a long way to easing any fears of a repeat ‘performance’, even if that victory were to come in the Capital One Cup. Or, as many cynical commentators have dubbed it, the New Reserve Cup. I’m not sure what happened to the actual reserves, but that league seems to be the domain of the U21s now, so the League Cup will have to do for early-season experimentation.
Roberto didn’t go completely crazy with his changes, but did grant Fulham subs Boselli, McManaman and Miyaichi starts. You would guess this is where that extra match sharpness afforded by appearances in the U21s would come in handy. And goodness, how it did.
A worrying defensive error allowed West Ham in for the opening goal of the tie as Wigan’s more than slightly dodgy ‘pass around the backline’ strategy was exposed somewhat. Only 7 minutes had passed and already the pressure was on, thanks to Mali international Modibo Maiga’s 18-yard strike.
But the Hammers scorecard dominance was soon to be checked. Ryo Miyaichi used his trademark pace to earn a free kick for Latics in dangerous territory, and though keeper Stephen Henderson could punch away, the danger was never fully cleared. Maynor Figueroa provided the cross for Mauro Boselli to poke home for his second of the season on 14 minutes, and Wigan had capitalised on their ascendancy.
West Ham earned themselves a series of corners as the game ticked into its second third, troubling Al Habsi three times before Ricardo Vaz Te headed just over the bar. Wigan’s sloppiness in possession continued to go unpunished, but the visitors weren’t creating much in the way of efforts themselves… That was, until the 38th minute, when Ivan Ramis smashed home a left-foot cracker from 20 yards out. Seemingly out of nowhere, a piece of brilliance gave 400 travelling Latics fans (WISH FM’s estimate, not mine) something to really cheer about.
That wasn’t quite it for the first half excitement, however. A mere three minutes later, Mauro Boselli provided an equally brilliant chip finish to beat Henderson and extend the Wigan lead from ‘narrow’ to ‘a bit more comfortable, maybe’. Just where was this clinical goalscoring when we needed it on Saturday?
West Ham returned to the pitch early for the resumption of the second half, presumably having been berated by an unhappy Sam Allardyce. They found it difficult to break through a reinforced Wigan defence, with even Boselli tracking back to help out in his own half. At 3-1 ahead, Latics were fairly content in letting the hosts play this way in exchange for the odd excursion into Hammers territory via counterattack.
Wigan almost increased their cushion with a couple of threatening moves in the general vicinity of Henderson’s goalmouth, and Callum McManaman and David Jones could both have scored in the same attack. (Although obviously they couldn’t both have counted.)
It was West Ham who did the majority of attacking legwork, however, and went close on a couple of occasions. An increasing number of set pieces were taking place in the Wigan third as the visitors’ passing started to break down once again. But the 70 minute mark came and went without a second goal for the home side – so far, so good.
Jordi Gomez replaced the ever-industrious McManaman with about a quarter of an hour to play, while Boselli was left on the pitch for a bit longer to see if he could complete his hat-trick. This change brought a new element to Wigan’s midfield, which was soon to be joined by Fraser Fyvie.
Before the Scot could be introduced, however, Gomez finished the West Ham challenge with Wigan’s fourth on 82 minutes. The Spaniard’s penalty sent the keeper the wrong way and Latics had matched their 4-1 scoreline of the previous round. Either Boselli wasn’t bothered about the hat-trick –which I can’t really envision–, or Martinez wanted to fully ensure the game was wrapped up.
Wigan finished strongly as West Ham’s challenge faded, holding possession well to see out the remaining minutes. The introduction of Filip Orsula helped eat away that injury time, Boselli receiving a round of applause from the 400 (cough) Latics fans as he was replaced.
Should that pesky calf injury prevent Franco Di Santo returning to the starting XI on Saturday, we may see Mauro get his first league start in who knows how long. I don’t think many of us would have predicted that this time last year.
A satisfying victory if ever there was one, just to break the string of games without a win. Ah, I know – “it’s only the Capital One Cup”, and it’s not as if Allardyce was intent on mounting a serious challenge for the trophy this year, but any win is good for morale. Sunderland await our challenge this weekend, and we may yet see a few surprises in the starting line up. You heard it here first, folks.
Photograph of Daily Mirror by Greg Swift.