Cheers, Phil (to be read as genuine or sarcastic - delete as appropriate)
Injury and suspension-hit Latics mustered an admirable display to rescue a point against an all-star Queen’s Park Rangers side, largely thanks to James McCarthy’s outstanding brace either side of half time. Statistics might suggest poor finishing on behalf of the Wigan strikers, but in reality a series of good saves from Rob Green were all that separated the hosts from what could so easily have been a thumping, Freddie Flintoff-esque victory.
Once again the makeshift back three of Boyce, Lopez and Jones (later Beausejour) emerge with great credit, even if both goals may be attributed to defensive mistakes. Boyce in particular seemed to relish his new role as team captain, and almost looked as though he might, at some point in the distant past, have made that right back position his own…
Rangers made the early running, and were impressive in possession as they bossed the first 15 minutes. Wigan’s back third saw more action than Maynor Figueroa’s copy of FIFA Football this week as first Wright-Phillips then Adel Taarabt breached the hosts’ defences. This period saw no real efforts of any note, however, and Latics were soon able to capitalise on QPR’s inability to trouble the keeper.
Before the game, there was much talk (on the PWU Podcast, anyway) of how Phil Dowd would no doubt make Wigan’s task all the harder. Not to cart out the usual sweeping statements or libellous allegations, but there weren’t many good words to be said about Mr Dowd when he was appointed primary official for today’s game. Thankfully, he was all too keen to give Latics every marginal decision, at least in the first half.
James McCarthy: on sparkling form
Jean Beausejour delivered a corner which seemed to be spliced wide by one of the predatory Wigan strikers, but Dowd immediately awarded another corner kick. Controversial indeed, and especially so considering what transpired. The ball fell to James McCarthy, who came racing from the edge of the box to power an unstoppable strike into the bottom right corner of Rob Green’s goal. Supposedly there was the tiniest of deflections to help the ball on its way, but we shall not quibble over minor details, for Latics were in front.
Wigan visibly grew in confidence following their goal but it was the visitors who struck next, some seven minutes later. Taarabt delivered QPR’s first corner of the game, and Ryan Nelsen outjumped Adrian Lopez to nod past Al Habsi. In the blink of an eye, it was 1-1 – on balance, a fair enough score at this point.
Like that recent Freddie Flintoff boxing match, the remainder of the half played out in punch and counter-punch fashion, with the hosts just about edging proceedings. But half time proved something of a turning point.
Latics emerged for the second half with a renewed vigour, and proceeded to bombard the opposition with a frenzied series of left-right combos. Rob Green was the visitors’ saviour during this period, which could have seen Wigan take the lead on three or four separate occasions. The ex-West Ham number one denied Jordi Gomez then David Jones with a couple of first-class saves, the only times his side seemed to touch the ball from 45 to 60 minutes.
Boyce and Jones: able stand-ins
One particular incident saw both Arouna Kone and Franco Di Santo squander chances in the very same attacking move – in fact it really was quite amazing how the ball did not end up in the back of the North Stand net, as it seemed to visit every other part of QPR’s area.
Wigan did not score, however, and were very soon made to pay. Actually, it was a poor defensive pass that let the visitors, now with three or four men permanently in advanced positions, in for their second goal. Supersub Djibril Cisse was there to slide the ball past Al Habsi at the back post and that first Premier League win was well and truly on… for about two minutes.
Shocked into retaliation, Latics scored with their very next attack, and once again it was the exceptional James McCarthy who provided the finish. Another smooth passing move cut through a slightly dodgy Rangers defence, and Beausejour laid the ball off for Jamie Mac who showed the so-called frontmen how to do it. No deflections this time, just accurate finishing.
A potentially exciting fifteen minutes of football lay ahead, and indeed both sides had their chances to get a third, and perhaps winning goal before the 94 minutes were up. Attacking substitutions from both managers made for some open football as the smell of those precious three points proved too tempting.
Wigan introduced Shaun Maloney and Mauro Boselli, and now they, Kone and Gomez were all populating the final third of the pitch. Things were all set up for Latics to really go for it, and how they tried. That QPR area was again congested as Wigan’s front four pressed themselves right up in the visitors’ faces.
Mauro Boselli could have had Wigan’s third on 86 minutes, but Rob Green stretched to push the ball away from danger as Jordi Gomez was flagged offside. Deep in his own area, Ryan Nelsen also delivered a crunching tackle on a Latics player as the game ticked into stoppage time, but Mr Dowd wasn’t having any of it. Like the Gomez shout against Man City, it is very hard to tell from where I was sat, but it was either a top drawer challenge or a nasty foul. I dunno, I’ll have to see it on the telly.
QPR weren’t without their own attempts in the game’s dying moments, Jamie Mackie heading over from close range and standing with his head in his hands for a good ten seconds as it dawned upon that this would have, in all likelihood, been the winner.
A quick glance at the table reveals Wigan are teetering on the brink of the relegation zone, and it’s somewhat surprising. We may have suffered four defeats in the last six games, but it really does not feel like it – Wigan have been playing some very good football of late.
Alcaraz and Caldwell: Two of next week's back three?
As I stated on the podcast this week, I believe a full strength Wigan side would have brushed aside QPR with some ease. The defensive lapses are understandable given the fact we are down to the barest of bare bones, and sides such as ourselves don’t tend to have the financial resources to field a competitive second, let alone third team.
Having said that, Wigan could, and perhaps should have won this game. As a result, disappointment is the overriding emotion as I digest another pulsating (well, interesting) game of football at the DW Stadium. Oh Mr Green, couldn’t you have just let a shot slip through your fingers just this one- erm, I mean, for a second time?
Figueroa and Caldwell will be back for next week’s game with Norwich, while Shaun Maloney is also in the frame for a return to the first team. There are also rumours that Antolin Alcaraz is returning to fitness, so is this injury mini-crisis almost over? I bally well hope so, because I’m itching for some points before the hectic Christmas period. We’re still waiting on that inevitable Kone hat-trick…