Everton 2-1 Wigan: No penalties allowed

Warning - Divers

You know, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas. When I took the dog out for its annual Boxing Day walk this morning, I did not require a large coat, never mind a hat and gloves. There have been few abandonments of late, save for maybe the odd waterlogged pitch or referee getting stuck in traffic on the M6.

I really shouldn’t tempt fate like this, though. The more I talk about weather, the more likely we are to see the coldest February since records began. I recall a story in last week’s Wigan Evening Post reporting how the club’s newer recruits may struggle with the inclement conditions, so it is probably best for their –and indeed the pitch’s– sake that this mild spell prevails.

Okay, maybe I haven’t quite portrayed the importance of this glut of fixtures. Five games in two weeks counts as congestion for a club in our position without extended European, League and (presumably) FA Cup runs to worry about each year. But after recent injury woes, it doesn’t feel like the usual ‘first real test’ of our credentials – it is simply the latest in a series of high hurdles that constitute Premier League life this season.

Despite a creditable defensive effort against Arsenal at the DW last weekend, Martinez saw fit to further strengthen his backline, drafting in fit-again Gary Caldwell for (an injured?) Franco Di Santo. And boy, was it good to have him back at the helm, throwing himself at every challenge and charging down a number of Everton efforts.

Overall, it was pleasing to see another relatively strong defensive showing in the first half, and as the players left the pitch at half time, hope sprang anew for some unlikely points. After all, isn’t that what Wigan are best at – pulling out surprise victories over the top four?

Reunited: A great effort from Boyce and Caldwell

Latics didn’t create anything of note, but this wasn’t much of a surprise considering their all-new, slightly more defensively-minded strategy. Besides, Arouna Kone isn’t in the best of goalscoring form so it would be something of a Christmas miracle if he managed it against a side such as Everton today…

In departments other than attacking, however, Wigan more than matched their opponents for 45 minutes. Nowt spectacular, but that was precisely the plan, so 10/10 in that respect.

The greasy pitch made it a bit of a slide tackle-fest, which referee Lee Mason took into account in deciding to keep his cards in his pocket… for the time being. There was a bit of banter between Anichebe and Caldwell, which seemed to persist right until the half time whistle. But as for goalscoring opportunities? Everton might have had the odd strike but I don’t recall Al Habsi having to make a save.

In other words, the first half was a bit uninspiring. But the second saw significant action at both ends of the field, unfortunately for Latics. One gets the feeling we would have preferred another pedestrian, chanceless half for a precious, precious point, but I guess you have to give in and play football at some point (boo!).

As the home side, Everton felt a greater need to make something happen. Thomas Hitzlsperger nearly shattered Al Habsi’s crossbar from waaaay outside the area, and suddenly Wigan looked a little more shaky. Sure enough, the ball was soon at the back of the Omani’s net via the outstretched arm of Gary Caldwell. Awww no, we’re not going back to this nonsense again, Gary?

Shaun Maloney by Alasdair Middleton

Shaun Maloney: a poor diver?

For the non-Wigan fans reading, let me enlighten you. Caldwell went through a tumultuous period midway through last season where it seemed the ball was hitting his arm in the penalty area with alarming regularity. Is it an incurable reflex reaction, or has Mr Caldwell been watching the rugby again?

So Leon Osman’s deflected strike had put the hosts ahead. How would Wigan react? So many times it has taken a swift kick up the backside for Latics to get their attacking play into gear – and today was no exception. I think it was more of a strategic thing on this occasion, but the point still stands. In fact, one suspects conceding might have been Wigan’s best chance of winning today.

Spurred into action all of a sudden, the visitors responded almost immediately. Shaun Maloney showed a great turn of pace to sprint deep into the Everton area, but just as he was about to deliver the ball, the defender stuck his leg out. A split second decision – do you go down for the penalty or attempt to stay on your feet? Well, heheh, that’s the burning issue, which I will now talk about at great length if you don’t mind.

There is one school of thought –let’s say, for the sake of argument, the Theo Walcott school– that dictates you have every right to go down in this situation. There is, however, a skill in making it look convincing. Sadly Maloney did not do himself any favours in making it as theatric as possible instead of simply falling over, which would doubtless have led to the penalty. In other words, we are no good at going down inside the area. We are too goody two-shoes for our claims to have any weight.

To reiterate, I do think the Theo Walcott incident was a foul, and hence a penalty. Therefore, I believe I am free of hypocrisy in claiming that Shaun Maloney should have been awarded a spot-kick on this occasion.

The luck did even itself up later on, but first there was the small matter of Everton’s second, and ultimately match-winning goal. It was a well-directed header worthy of three points, from who else but Leight… oh sorry, it was Phil Jagielka. Sorry, I had the urge to be cheeky there.

Franco Di Santo applause

Late cameo: Franco Di Santo

With less than 14 minutes to play and Wigan struggling to get their shots on target, one sensed the game might well be dead. And one was right, but there were a couple of nervy moments for Everton thanks to Arouna Kone’s hard-worked strike on 82 minutes. For a change, Wigan experienced a huge slice of luck as Kone brought the ball down with his hand to slot away from 8 yards. Wahey, karma does exist after all!

Unfortunately, Wigan could not kick on and capitalise. By now, Gomez and Di Santo were also on the field to make a 4-man forward line, and it was Everton’s turn to defend for their lives. This was Wigan’s best spell of possession, and much like against Arsenal, there was a sniff of a point. Ohhh, how we would love a Christmas point!

Also much like against Arsenal, however, Latics could not find a way through, even with nine men in the opposition half. With James McCarthy’s misfired injury time strike, Wigan’s hopes of a draw went sailing across the Mersey into nothingness. Another narrow defeat, but again it could have been so much more.

You know what the worst, the very worst of it all is? We’ve been playing well this week, so we’re due a bad game against Villa. I flipping well hope not, but that’s the way Sod’s law works. Of course, you can circumvent him and his bloody-minded mate Murphy with a £15million striker, but does anybody out there in Blogland have that in their back pocket? (Anybody?)

I don’t know about you, but I feel that pressure building. Win our next game, and it might just be alright. Lose, and it’s going to be a horrible new year. But one final piece of good news to leave you with until Friday’s podcast – Arouna Kone was given a pair of finishing boots for Christmas! Guess who sent them?

Maloney pic by Alasdair Middleton (CC), diver pic by Frank Vincentz (CC).

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