International breaks suck. The lack of Latics action over the past two weeks has forced me to watch videos of cats falling off worktops and attempting to open doors rather than highlights from our most recent game. The only alternative was witnessing yet more rain fall on an already waterlogged Polish pitch and, well, I think I was better served plumping for the You’ve Been Framed out-takes. (A.K.A. the Belgium-Scotland game.)
Just in time to save us from this increasingly morbid state, Latics made the trip to a whole other country to face Swansea City. Hopefully the lads still had their passports at hand after a long fornight’s globetrotting with their respective international sides, as I hear those customs officials at the Cheshire border are tighter than Dave Whelan’s purse strings on a Friday evening.
Arouna Kone in particular must have found a modicum of relief in returning to club football after a quite literally riotous international weekend, while Maynor Figueroa was no doubt shaking off the jet lag from another long trip abroad. Gary Caldwell, James McArthur and Shaun Maloney also had a busy time of it against an impressive Belgium, while Jean Beausejour and James McCarthy travelled with Chile and Ireland.
Yet somehow, somehow, Roberto Martinez was able to field an unchanged starting lineup for this afternoon’s game. Not sure what he’s putting in the pre-training coffee, but it put paid to my own less than tentative prediction that Miyaichi or McManaman may start in light of fatigue.
Swansea were undoubtedly the first half’s primary aggressors, dominating possession and shot count. Shaun Maloney tested Vorm early on, but it was to be the keeper’s last real action of the half as the hosts slowly took control. Jonathan De Guzman saw one shot saved and another fly wide of Ali Al Habsi’s post, while Michu headed Wayne Routledge’s superb cross over the bar on the half hour mark.
Though Wigan had an excellent chance to hit the lead through a breaking Jean Beausejour on 36, it was the home side that finished the half pressing the Latics goal. Many free kicks rained in on the visitors’ goalmouth, but all was repelled by stout Wigan defending — when in doubt, after all, you just have to boot it out.
Wigan had brief periods of possession but found it hard to hold on to the ball for very long, and didn’t help themselves with a few strategic misplaced passes almost letting the opposition through on goal. Thankfully, however, for all their endeavour, Swansea hadn’t really tested Al Habsi… yet.
Though Swansea continued in much the same vein when the second half started, Leon Britton going inches wide just minutes from the restart, it looked as though Wigan were also keen to impose themselves on this game. A well-worked free kick saw Shaun Maloney get a strike in at Michel Vorm’s goal, but he could only volley it right at the Dutchman. Little did they know it, but Wigan would soon be left to rue this.
The hosts soon took a firm grasp of the contest as Wigan’s defence finally crumbled in the 65th minute. Pablo Hernandez shot from the edge of the area through a sea of bodies to leave Al Habsi helplessly gazing at the ball sailing past his right hand and into the net. And the leaky faucets were soon streaming raw sewage as Michu headed the Swans into a 2-0 lead from De Guzman’s corner just two minutes later.
All but beaten, the visitors could have just laid down to die, but they certainly did not. The Swans lead was halved less than 120 seconds later as Wigan’s most promising move to date concluded with some success – at least, the ball came to rest at the back of the Swansea goal via the head of Emmerson Boyce.
And Wigan had the ball in the net once more only a few minutes later. Sadly, however, karma was on hand to ensure Arouna Kone was this time flagged offside despite being just level as Beausejour’s cross came in. Tough luck, perhaps, but Wigan were not deterred.
Out of almost nowhere, Swansea were now the ones of the brink of collapse. Franco Di Santo almost, so very nearly made it 2-2 in the final ten minutes but opted for placement rather than power and granted Vorm an easy save. Shaun Maloney struck a free kick right at said same keeper, while Ali Al Habsi almost headed a last-minute header past his opposite number into the bottom corner of the net.
However, Swansea were worthy victors as Mike Jones blew for full time. They had bossed the match for so very long and played the more attacking, positive game over the course of both halves. That’s not to say Wigan didn’t have their moments – stretch that attacking performance in the final 20 minutes to a full 90 and you may have one very tired team, but there’s a better chance of victory.
Alright, maybe I should qualify that. Following those two Swansea goals, things changed so dramatically. Yes, Wigan had to push for the goals, but all of a sudden those passes were finding their men and the spring was back in our step. It would have been the perfect away strategy had it worked… but unfortunately it didn’t, and we came away with Jack.
Okay, I’ve used that one twice now. I’ll shut up.