Following last week’s somewhat disappointing Swansea game, I commented that Wigan’s performances this season have either been outstandingly clinical or atrociously inadequate. Another defeat had pushed the Latics bandwagon just that bit closer to edge of a steep, craggy cliff that, should said vehicle topple off, would undoubtedly take until February or March for any surviving bodies to scale.
To cut the elaborate (and somewhat unnecessary) metaphor, we’d been experiencing far too many unpleasant results of late, even if those patches of brilliance have threatened to shine through. That relegation zone, whose constituents are so often the butt of many a ragtop’s (i.e. red-top rag’s) throwaway criticism, was creeping up on us faster than a woefully unsubtle trick-or-treater. But just in time to save the ‘pre-Halloween horror show’ headlines, Wigan pulled out an accomplished performance to dispatch high-flying West Ham.
If the ten-place gap between the two sides before kickoff this afternoon was at least some cause for concern, then the gulf between the two teams on the pitch was a welcome sight. The hosts played a consummate, controlling game that locked their opponents out for large periods and, ultimately, prevented West Ham from grabbing those points they so desperately craved following that painful encounter just under 18 months ago.
From a seventh minute corner, Ivan Ramis (or, as certain radio commentators are intent on calling him, Ivan Raymos) was in the right place with the right skills to capitalise on Wigan’s bright start. His left foot thunderbolt volley from 12 yards left Jussi Jaaskelainen floundering as the ball went from Jean Beausejour’s boot to Ramis’ and into the net in the blink of an eye.
Wigan’s early strike set the tone for the remainder of the first half. Andy Carroll and Matt Jarvis were the primary aggressors for the Hammers, but it was the home side’s controlling of possession, accurate passing and overall slickness that left a longer-lasting impression.
West Ham struggled to make in-roads against a well-practised backline – a succession of free kicks around the Wigan area each hit a member of the populous defensive wall, while Ali Al Habsi had just one strike, from the aforementioned Jarvis, to deal with.
Though Shaun Maloney and James McCarthy had earlier shots at goal, it was Franco Di Santo that almost doubled his side’s lead as half time approached. The Argentine drew two saves from Jaaskelainen and a predatory Ramis also had another attempt from long range, probably acting on the numerous cries of ‘shoot!’ from three sides of the DW Stadium. Arouna Kone’s unsuccessful effort rounded off Wigan’s dominance as the half time whistle blew.
The second half began in much the same way as the first had both started and ended – with the hosts thundering forward. And once again Wigan hit the scoresheet with another powerful strike, this time through James McArthur. The ball came across from Beausejour, and though it was just behind Maloney, he managed to get enough of a touch to manoeuvre it into the path of his fellow Scotsman. McArthur hammered (pun intended) it into the bottom right corner of Jaaskelainen’s North Stand goal to double the lead and increase that all-important scoreboard pressure.
The onus was now on the visitors to turn things around, but all did not go to plan. All too often they were slightly exposed at the back as their defensive line pushed forward Wigan-style. The next ten minutes saw a series of blocked West Ham strikes punctuated by Wigan counter-attacks, so Allardyce introduced Carlton Cole to try and beef up his attacking options.
Ex-Wigan ‘favourite’ Momo Diame was also removed in favour of former England U21 International Gary O’Neil, to a somewhat predictable chorus of boos. Much like his team-mates, he had trouble gaining the edge on his opponents and failed to silence his Latics detractors – at least, for the time being.
To Wigan’s great delight, the game was beginning to slowly peter out, with few threatening efforts from either side. The Hammers had other plans, however, and launched a final, spirited effort to salvage something with less than ten minutes of normal time to play. Al Habsi first saved a James Collins shot, then Gary Caldwell produced the block of his life to deny James Tomkins from very close range.
Then, two minutes into stoppage time came the breakthrough the visitors sought. That pressure finally told when James Collins converted George McCartney’s cross to halve his side’s defecit, but was it all too late? With approximately sixty seconds to play, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’ – in fact, Wigan so very nearly put the game beyond all doubt through Arouna Kone. Though the Ivorian hit straight at Jaaskeleinen, the final whistle sounded soon after and there was no time for the Hammers to complete their comeback.
Four minutes and 28 seconds over the allotted 90 minutes, referee Jon Moss (no, I’m not entirely familiar with him either) drew a close to the contest, and Wigan had grabbed their first home victory of the 2012–13 campaign. Mark the date and time – 4:51pm, 27 October.
The scoreline may suggest a close win for Wigan, but in reality it was the hosts who more deserved the victory. Think of it as a similar situation to last week at Swansea, with the home side doing more to earn the points. Latics just looked more competent, and though West Ham were an ever-present threat to Wigan’s goalmouth, they were (probably by their own admission) a tad sloppy, both in defence and passing.
From a Wigan point of view –and this is a Wigan Athletic weblog after all (it says so on the header there)– it would be stating the obvious to say this is a fantastic victory, as is any win at this stage of the season. Due to our tendency to pick up most points at the back end of the campaign, it isn’t often we can celebrate three points well earned in the period August–March, so enjoy it while you can.
Carroll image by Cady @ Flickr (CC).