Here’s a hypothetical puzzler for you: if Wigan were to somehow scrape into a European slot, would it be a good or bad thing for the club? No doubt the pessimists among us have already stopped reading, but for those still remotely interested, please indulge me for a moment and advance to the second paragraph.
Congratulations! You have a greater attention span than half the internet. Good for you. But back to the matter at hand – the Europa League. One’s immediate reaction is that yes, of course qualifying for a European competition is of great benefit to any team, not least financially. There’s the subsequent publicity and terrestrial television appearances, plus the prospect of touring the continent with the mighty Wigan Athletic. You can’t go wrong, surely?
Well, let’s put it another way. Could a squad as limited as Wigan’s be competitive in the really big leagues? One looks at the improved strength in depth this season and recognises its effectiveness in comparison to dismal domestic cup campaigns of years past, but Callum McManaman against Lazio and Inter Milan? A tantalising prospect indeed, but there are issues aside from quality.
Unfortunately, Newcastle’s celestial 2011-12 league campaign was quickly forgotten, lost in a horror November that took in four losses and a draw. It would be unfair to entirely attribute this to their European endeavours, but they can’t have helped. Even a side of such divine magnificence as Man City seem to be struggling to compete in three concurrent cup competitions. And we haven’t yet elaborated on the potential effect on a squad’s general health.
Right, that’s enough boxes ticked on the ‘teams to disrespect’ checklist, because I am in severe danger of rolling into ‘doesn’t know what he’s talking about’ territory. My ultimate point is this: could Wigan take advantage of Newcastle’s recent problems with injuries and form? There, should have made that the first sentence, eh?
Now, what is the very worst start you could conceivably suffer in a game of football? The answer is probably to have your goalkeeper get sent off and concede a penalty within the first fifteen minutes. Thankfully this did not quite happen this evening, but in the midst of our own defensive injury problems, it is almost as bad to have one of your back three take a (really) early shower.
Unfortunately, Maynor Figueroa had no case for appeal when he clattered into Papiss Cisse just outside the 6-yard box and received a straight red card on 11 minutes. He was, after all, the last man, and prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Demba Ba squeezed an accomplished spot kick past a hopping mad Al Habsi and started the rather large Newcastle boulder rolling through Wigan’s defence like out of an Indiana Jones film. Ahh, it’s of scant consolation to Jay Tabb this evening, but it seems karma is a very real threat in modern football.
Afforded the confidence provided by both a one-goal cushion and a one-man advantage, the hosts verily blitzed their way to a second goal less than ten minutes later. In scenes vaguely reminiscent of last Wednesday, Al Habsi parried Santon’s initial shot into the path of Cisse, who simply could not miss from eight yards.
Wigan proceeded to play a very deep back line of Caldwell, Boyce and whoever was on hand to drop back and aid the war effort. Never mind a shoestring budget, this was now truly a shoestring defence. Well, in saying this I do Calds a disservice, but he almost joined Mr Figueroa in the dressing room late in the half, when Mike Jones showed lenience in keeping his yellow card tucked away in his shirt pocket. Caldwell had earlier been booked for schything through the back of Demba Ba, and must have been sweating on Jones’s decision.
Adrian Lopez replaced the ailing captain at half time, and suddenly Latics looked a bit more cohesive at the back. Or perhaps the hosts decided to scale back their attacking efforts? As a Wigan fan, I prefer the former option as indeed, the whole side looked a lot more competitive. There was no escaping the one-man deficit, but Latics remained a threat going forward.
With Caldwell now suspended, it probably seems better to have started without him
In fact, the visitors were largely on top right until Newcastle’s third, and killer goal on 70 minutes. Ronnie Stam was Wigan’s main outlet on the right of midfield, and almost broke the home side’s defences on two separate occasions. But even with Di Santo and Kone lurking in the area, he could not find that accurate pass to start his side on the long road back into the game.
It was heartening to see that even after Bigirimana’s early Christmas cracker of a strike, Stam continued to test Krul, and the Wigan frontmen persisted in their harassment of the Newcastle penalty box. Despite the distinct lack of shots on target, the sprightly attacking play might have been worth a goal alone. There were spells of terrible indecisiveness and indirectness, but what did it matter? The game, now lost, was already at an extended coda.
Callum McManaman replaced Franco Di Santo with less than ten minutes to play, almost bringing this post full circle. It is indeed unlikely he, and indeed many of his Wigan team-mates, will be up against the Euro giants any time soon, but maybe this is for the best. Never mind, eh?
On the evidence of this evening, there is the potential for a goal-fest against QPR. I have no doubt we will score, but it is also likely we will concede, and I feel it may be a case of edging them out as we did Reading. Arouna Kone always looks as though he is an accurate shot away from a hat-trick, so there is no great cause to be down. Well, apart from the fact we will be without Figueroa and Caldwell. But hey, their cards could still be rescinded, right? Hehehhehe…. no.
Zebra Photoshop courtesy Stano Novak/Illarterate (CC2.5)