Ben Watson produced a creditable performance considering his midweek travails
During my usual Saturday morning trawl through the tabloids (well, tabloid - have you seen the price of them these days?), I was surprised to encounter a full page spread on the ‘odd couple’ Kone and Di Santo. Well, it was as near as you can get to a ‘full page’ article in the Daily Mirror, anyway. Reading about how Kone is finding training sessions more intense than at his previous club in Spain reminded me how much we missed him and our own Argentine bad boy -or rather, their quality of finishing touch- in midweek.
Actually, I shouldn’t really mention The Mirror and its brand of journalism, for I get the feeling there is an underlying motive to unsettle Franco. Last week they ‘reported’ that contract talks have stalled over the financial package offered, despite evidence he seems more than happy to stay at the club. One would hope it’s all paper talk and that little word, ‘faith’, will be the deciding factor in his ultimate decision come January.
Players either settle immediately or they don’t. If it’s the latter, fans tend to develop a negative attitude towards them – but as we’ve seen, a good season can drastically change things. Whilst he isn’t exactly a fan favourite, Di Santo is definitely held in higher regard than two years ago. By contrast Kone, evidently adapting to his role quickly, has made an almost immediate goalscoring impact alongside our Frank – three goals in just under three months can probably be counted as such, I guess.
Wigan’s dynamic centre forward duo had a big part to play in the first half, knocking the ball about with confidence and giving the Tottenham backline more than a little to consider. The first real chance for either team fell to Arouna Kone on 28 minutes, the culmination of another excellent passing move. Sadly he could only hit the ball right at Brad Friedel, who produced an excellent stop to deny the visitors a first goal in about 190 minutes of football.
Franco Di Santo saw a lot of ball in the first half
Shaun Maloney was next to draw Friedel into another top-drawer save just five minutes later, hitting the ball into the big American’s left hand when one-on-one. Latics had done a great job of beating the Spurs offside trap, and were now taking control of proceedings – the only thing missing was the finish, which, like on Tuesday, seemed to elude us.
Thankfully for Wigan, the home side weren’t too great at this goalscoring lark, either. Jan Vertonghen came closest with a great snap volley that Al Habsi did well to prevent flying into the net. Although Tottenham thundered forward on a few more occasions, none resulted in a clear-cut chance and the hosts went into half time thoroughly frustrated.
The game resumed as though there had never been a 15-minute break. Spurs had a pot shot from outside the area through Dempsey in the opening exchanges, though Al Habsi was able to smother the ball relatively comfortably. This attempt served to characterise Tottenham’s attacking play not just in the second stanza, but the game as a whole – lots of endeavour, but no real edge to get that goal. Huh, remind you of anything?
Next came a key, perhaps controversial moment which would ultimately decide the game. Shaun Maloney delivered a dangerous corner from the left, which Friedel could initially fist from underneath his crossbar. However, his attempts were somewhat hindered by a prowling Arouna Kone, who unwittingly created an excellent opportunity for Ben Watson. Friedel, still behind his own goal line, was getting himself back into position when Watson struck the ball into his stomach. The linesman flagged for a goal – indeed, there was no doubting the ball was over the line.
Brad Friedel: to blame?
Though not many complaints were forthcoming from the Spurs keeper, it’s the sort of thing that thoroughly cheeses you off as a fan. Whenever any opposition player man-to-man marks your goalkeeper in such a manner, you expect the ref to blow in your favour – but on this occasion, Martin Atkinson did not. Latics had the goal their recent dominance deserved, however, and were now set up to go for an away point, maybe even three.
The next 35-40 minutes (if you include the five minutes of stoppage time) mostly consisted of home pressure broken up by the odd Wigan breakaway opportunity. Tottenham started to push for that equaliser, but the best they could muster was a long-range Bale shot parried away by Al Habsi.
Gary Caldwell, suitably refreshed after being rested for Bradford, was ably commandeering his back five (including Boyce and Watson) to great effect. Each and every man was doing a defensive stint, getting in those heroic blocks when they really mattered.
When Franco Di Santo made way for Jordi Gomez on 69 minutes, Roberto’s tactics were clear – hold on to the ball at all costs. Of course this did not stop his eager side bombing forward whenever single frontman Kone received the ball in opposition territory.
Wigan twice came close to putting the result beyond doubt in the final ten minutes of the game. Figueroa first unleashed a thunderbolt free kick that flew a yard wide of Friedel’s outstretched hand and into the stands (84 minutes). Should this have been on target, you get the feeling it would have severed the keeper’s whole limb on its way into the onion bag, such was its force.
An even better chance came in the 93rd minute, but Gomez could not find a killer centre when free in the Tottenham area. A now limping Gallas cleared and the hosts breathed again, but time was almost up. Gareth Bale fired one final effort wide from the sort of position he usually causes keepers great trouble, and Watson’s 56th minute strike was enough to settle the game for Wigan. They had, to some extent, ‘done a Bradford‘ and defended their way to the points.
Now I think about it, Ali Al Habsi didn't have a lot to do.
But this was no ‘pack the penalty area and hope’ effort, nor was it a ‘smash and grab’ a la 2010. It is true that the hosts weren’t at their very best, but Wigan (finally) capitalised on their chances and played that away strategy I so often reference to perfection. This time, they thoroughly earned their goal and followed it up with a defensive display even our Yorkshire compatriots would be proud of.
A first away win quietens the detractors, at least for the time being. West Brom may prove tough opposition at the DW next week, but with confidence visibly growing, a third win from three is a distinct possibility. Best not to be too complacent, however – Liverpool and Man City are to follow this month, so we could do with some points.