The *real* reason for Di Santo’s absence from the first XI?
It’s been a busy week of community engagements for Latics. The past seven days have seen the squad embark upon its traditional seasonal school and hospital visits, as well as a pre-Christmas book signing to launch Keeping The Faith. But it wasn’t the freezing conditions, or even a long, turbulent flight down to Norfolk that caused a semblance of stodginess, rather half the team’s entry for the World Pie Eating Championships.
Franco Di Santo must have been feeling the effects of pastry overload, because it was not he but Mauro Boselli that took to the pitch at centre forward. I found this rather strange, especially considering how happy Franco seemed here. Though Maynor Figueroa made a highly welcome return from his engagements (read: suspension), there was still a patchwork feel to the Wigan defence. But I guess when you’re down to your fourth-choice centre back, there’s always going to be a hint of that.
The game began in bizarre fashion when Anthony Pilkington missed the first 25 seconds after being made to tape up his slightly discoloured socks. I dunno, they looked yellow enough to me, but then I am not a Premier League referee. This ‘yellow tape’ (as it were) picky officiating was briefly forgotten, however, when said same player put his side 1-0 ahead on 15 minutes. In an eerie echo of recent goals conceded, Wigan were once again caught dwelling on the ball in and around their own area.
Norwich proceeded to expose the shaky Wigan defence, and my word did they look nervous. It can’t have helped that the visitors were now playing a slightly higher line as they pressed for an equaliser, but the Canaries were bearing down on Al Habsi’s goal with worrying regularity. Poor Ali has not been himself of late, and looked a might unstable as his goal line led a charmed life in the latter part of the half.
Mauro Boselli spent most of the game with his hands behind his back
But for all the hosts’ battering of the opposition goalmouth, they went into the half time break just the solitary goal ahead. Wigan’s good luck with referees extended itself a further 45 minutes as Lee Probert awarded Norwich absolutely nothing, which might be a contributing factor in their failure to score a second, possibly killer, goal.
Latics made their customary bright start to the second half, facilitated by the introduction of Shaun Maloney for the injured James McCarthy. Poor Jamie Mac bore the brunt of the home faithful’s abuse after his challenge with Bradley Johnson on 21 minutes resulted in the latter receiving a (deserved) yellow card. McCarthy came off by far the worse in the end, however, and we can only hope he is not too badly injured.
Having been summarily slaughtered for the vast majority of the first half, Latics decided it was just about time to score. Maloney, picking the ball up on the edge of the Norwich area, sliced one off the outside of his boot perfectly into the corner of Mark Bunn’s net. The home crowd, previously so confident of a comfortable victory, fell silent. Suddenly, Latics were right back in the game.
With Wigan now bossing possession, that imminent goal-fest I have been predicting for weeks looked an outside possibility. Who’d have thunk it, eh? Unfortunately, all attacks missed that final, vital piece of the puzzle, be it that accurate cross or clinical finish. Ronnie Stam was now making the right wing his own, but couldn’t ever muster a half-decent ball for the three or four men waiting in the centre.
McCarthy is rated ‘doubtful’ for next week’s game with Arsenal
The visitors were greatly deflated by Norwich’s second, which came via the head of Wesley Hoolahan on 64 minutes. I have run out of superlatives to describe our defensive problems at the moment –or at least, I tire of documenting them–, so I shall say simply this: “whoops”.
Conceding a second was always a distinct likelihood, as Norwich were now repeating their first half siege of the Latics goal. Thanks to Al Habsi, however, that the lead remained at just the one goal through a particularly rocky period. His confidence seemed to have returned as he denied Johnson, Pilkington then Whittaker with some acrobatic stops that might have earned him a place in the Oman high bars team at the Olympics.
I am greatly tempted to give Al Habsi the Wigan man of the match award… so I shall. Unfortunately the JWAW budget does not extend to expensive (or even cheap) champagne, so Mr Al Habsi, I award you this post it note with the words ‘you are great’ written in a pen that ran out of ink last month. You can collect it in person, or I will post it to you if you like.
The period 75-89 minutes did not take place, for the ball rolled by an advertising hoarding and it took the entire Wigan squad forever to find it. The hosts sat down for a chat, breaking out the Hobnobs while Wigan did all the work. And I doubt you’ll ever read as silly a time-wasting analogy as that. That is, if you did indeed read it. And if you quote this sentence in the comments section, I will post you a friendly sticky note.
There were a couple of final chances for Wigan to steal an unlikely point, however. Arouna Kone had the best of these as, in the final minute of the game, he found himself through on Bunn’s goal. He let fly, only to see his strike deflected tantalisingly wide. I felt certain Kone would end his mini-drought and earn us another vital point, but sadly the wind did not blow our way on this particular occasion.
Adrian Lopez looked to sustain a late hamstring injury
That second chance? Well, our appointed man of the match sneaked into the Norwich area for the resultant corner and got a cheeky header in on goal. The danger was snuffed out, however, and the game was near a close. Kone had one last half-chance less than a minute later, but it was desperate. Game over.
I wouldn’t say Wigan didn’t deserve anything from the game, but I will say Norwich deserved the win far more. But, as I have repeated time after time here and on the PWU Podcast, it isn’t about what you deserve but what you get.
It is blatantly obvious there is potential in this Wigan side. A great deal of our problems lie with personnel at this moment in time, for I daresay that a full-strength team would have done better. This includes the surprise selection of Boselli, who might as well have been a cardboard cutout of Dale Winton, but you know I’m mainly talking about that defence. I think we’re close to the balance being tipped in favour of a ‘crisis’ on that front, especially seeing as Adrian Lopez failed to finish the game. Was it cramp, or something more serious?
Dear Santa Claus,
Can you make it so that Ivan Ramis returns for the game against Arsenal? I promise I have been a very good boy this year and will leave you a bottle of Vodka this Christmas Eve.
PS. If Wigan stay up this year I will leave you two bottles next Christmas. *Wink wink*
Enough. My head hurts, and this went on far too long again – the more I type, the more worried I become. Podcast Thursday. Check in then for more punishment.