What, we have to get back to the daily grind of Premier League life so soon? Uggh, can we not play Blue Square Premier teams on a more regular basis? Wait, scratch that – I’d probably go mad if it were like that each week. Alright then, let me just take some breaths to decrease my circulation following the sheer excitement of the weekend.
Maybe Wigan were also struggling to ground themselves, as they never really got going in a frequently scrappy first half. They could be thankful that Stoke weren’t at their best either, and it was for this reason the deficit remained at just the single goal going into the break. Ryan Shawcross’s volley was the difference between the two sides, though it could probably have been prevented with a bit more composure and –yes, we’re getting this desperate already– luck.
Charlie Adam scooped an innocuous 23rd minute free kick into the Wigan area, but Jean Beausejour’s clearing header rebounded off the back of a team mate and into the path of Shawcross. The England international only had to beat a scrabbling Al Habsi, and did so with consummate ease. Ack, why do we keep giving away these soft free kicks in dangerous positions? I hate to say it, but it’s the mark of an average side embroiled in a relegation battle.
The shining light in a thick fog of first-half mediocrity for Wigan was Shaun Maloney, who teased the Stoke defence on many an occasion. He had few allies, however, and Cameron and Huth found it easy to form that now-familiar impenetrable barricade somewhere around the edge of the six-yard box. I don’t fancy running into two great piles of bricks and cement, do you?
Franco Di Santo looked horribly out of form, only completing the odd pass under immense pressure from the aforementioned concrete barrier.
To make matters worse, Emmerson Boyce hobbled off with what looked like a hamstring injury in the final minutes of the half. It was bad enough that youngster Roman Golobart had been thrown into the centre of defence at such short notice, but Martinez was now forced to introduce another player devoid of form – Ronnie Stam. “Oy, Paul Scharner can’t drive over here soon enough.”
Wigan’s customary good start to the second half raised spirits, though not for very long. Roger Espinoza lost the ball close to the Stoke goal line, and with his side a little thin at the back, the hosts were soon advancing upon Al Habsi’s goalmouth with malicious intent. Adam’s shot wasn’t enough to beat Al Habsi, but it was of sufficient quality to make the Omani parry the ball into the path of Peter Crouch. 2-0, simple as you like, and it wasn’t looking good at all.
That ‘banker’ 2-2 result was a long way from secure, but as you are all well aware, a game only starts this season when Wigan go two goals down. Tonight was no exception. From absolutely nowhere, Latics conjured up some truly magical football to claw themselves back into the game with a goal that even Barcelona would be proud of.
In an instant, Roger Epinoza turned his whole game around with a pinpoint pass for James McArthur to meet so sweetly that Asmir Begovic might as well have been stood at the bus stop, waiting for the team coach. The Scot’s first-time strike clipped the inside of his post and careered over the line for one of the best goals you’ll see from Wigan this season. Talk about from the ridiculous to the sublime!
The second half was becoming a mirror match of the first, with Wigan now controlling possession almost at will. That equaliser was looking highly likely, nay certain, as the entire Latics side were galvanised. Momentarily, the quick-thinking Caldwell caught the hosts off guard with a swift free kick from the back. Before Stoke knew it, the sensational James McArthur was laying the ball off for a grateful Di Santo, who volleyed home from close range.
The Potters were completely taken aback. What chances they did create in the remainder of the contest came to nothing as their finish deserted them, and the game was there for Wigan to take. What an opportunity to break from recent tradition and chalk up anything but a 2-2 draw with Stoke!
Two attacking substitutions, one from either team, helped eat away the final ten minutes, but there was to be one more chance for Wigan to pinch the points in the game’s dying moments. Shaun Maloney swept a ball across the face of Begovic’s six-yard box, and a battling Di Santo managed to get his left toe to it. Unfortunately the ball went just wide of the post, and as it smacked into the advertising hoardings with a resounding thud, so disappeared any hope of an outright winner on the evening.
Somewhat predictably based on recent displays, Wigan’s performance today was worthy of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. For the first half, pick your own adjective: insipid, weak, poor, clueless, incoherent. For the second, see Manchester City or Real Madrid. Roberto Martinez regards it as two points dropped and I would like to agree with him, but let’s not be too greedy here. At 2-0 down, don’t deny you would have taken a draw for a hundred quid.
A point is good enough should we go on to beat Southampton at the DW on Saturday. If Jekyll shows up, it will be an easy win. But should Hyde rear his ugly head once more, Wigan shall be cast right back into the pit of eternal serpents that is the relegation zone. Which, by the way, we are currently just above – yay!