On fire: Steven Fletcher grabbed his fifth goal in four games
A Jordi Gomez sending off quickly followed by Steven Fletcher’s strike edged a relatively close contest in Sunderland’s favour. The Spaniard’s 48th minute red card ultimately cost Wigan a real chance of victory, but resolute defending from the home side ensured the ten men of Wigan went away from the Stadium of Light empty handed.
Somewhat surprisingly, Martinez reverted to much the same formula and setup that lost to Fulham at the DW last week. Gomez was still preferred to Boselli as support striker/floating midfielder type bloke, while McManaman and Miyaichi had to bide their time on the bench. Franco Di Santo was back to join them in the dugout, however, suggesting he might be fit to take some part in the afternoon’s proceedings.
In sunny but blustery conditions, Latics began brightly to try and unsettle their opponents. Simon Mignolet twice preserved the home side’s clean sheet in the first quarter of an hour, first denying James McCarthy then Aruna Kone. The latter opportunity was a near-certain goal for the Ivorian, who only had to place Jean Beausejour’s superb cross past the keeper to put his side ahead on the 15 minute mark. Unfortunately he could not steer the ball into the net, and the end to end, punch-for-punch action continued.
Referee Howard Webb largely kept a lid on what was an increasingly scrappy contest, even if a few dodgy decisions enraged the home fans. This, and a good spell of possession, edged things in Wigan’s favour as the half drew to a close. Latics did embark on a couple of promising visits to the Sunderland half, but could not find that killer pass in the final third.
In the last five minutes, James McCarthy had a go from just outside the Sunderland area but saw his curling strike sway just past Mignolet’s left hand post. Wigan finished the first 45 in the ascendancy, but the Black Cats did put in a couple of decent set pieces as the game ticked into stoppage time. From the first, a corner, Al Habsi produced a decent fist clear considering the uncertainty caused by strong winds. The second, an excellent Adam Johnson free kick, could easily have resulted in a tap past Al Habsi from 7 yards, maybe even a penalty.
Honours were even heading into half time – both sides had seven shots, of which both hit the target on three occasions. Wigan were perhaps the happier, but would they be left to rue those two early Mignolet saves?
If the hosts were aggrieved at Webb’s performance in the first half, they would have been delighted with his decision just minutes into the second. Jordi Gomez lunged one-footed, but with his studs showing, into a challenge with Danny Rose… and earned himself Wigan’s first red card of the season. After beginning the second half well, Martinez’s side faced the daunting prospect of playing just under a half of football a man short.
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The departure of Gomez really swung things in Sunderland’s favour, and they were soon ahead in the contest through Steven Fletcher who hit home from close range. More pressure followed, and the odd decent strike from Stephane Sessegnon forced Al Habsi into a good, low stop at his right post.
The visitors saw through the Sunderland pressure, however, and came out the other side fighting as Franco Di Santo was introduced to join Kone up front. One suspects this might always have been an idea, though we would have hoped to be in better shape when the substitution came.
Wigan had further cause to be aggrieved as James McLean committed two yellow card-worthy challenges within the space of about a minute. The first wasn’t even given as a free kick, however, and the Irish international remained on the pitch, for the time being, at least. But Latics weren’t about to give up.
The game became highly reminiscent of the last 20 minutes against Fulham last week, Wigan pushing for that goal while Sunderland remained happy to keep the ball. The hosts’ tactic seemed to work, too, as Wigan once again struggled to break down that barricade pitched somewhere round about the edge of the Sunderland penalty area.
Not even the introduction of the two Ms – Miyaichi and McManaman – could do much to penetrate the home backline as Wigan continued to be frustrated in Sunderland’s half. Kone could not get the ball, while substitute Di Santo was booked for a petulant lunge at Danny Rose. No more shots on target, no more excitement, and certainly no more goals. Sunderland held on to their one-goal lead and consigned Latics to their third straight league defeat from another game that could have yielded so much more.
Cause for concern, maybe, but not too much. The bad news: not everybody is playing at their best. The good news: there are a number of waiting fringemen eager to impress. That a Latics ‘reserve’ team won so comfortably in midweek –albeit against weakened opposition– proves there is definite competition for places. No goals today might suggest a change in the starting lineup for next week – heck, I expected at least one of McManaman and Miyaichi to break into the starting XI this afternoon. Who knows, maybe Mauro Boselli would have been an extra target in the middle for Beausejour to aim for?
There is much to ponder for next week, when Everton visit the DW Stadium. Let’s hope this October is kinder to us than the last.