A pleasant window for Latics
The January transfer window firmly locked for safety, we now move into the ‘interesting’ part of the season. It is the time when Wigan start to produce their best football as the threat of relegation transforms into a very real possibility with every point dropped. Or so one would hope.
Latics, however, remain undoubtedly unsettled – I don’t believe Martinez has been able to field the same defensive personnel for two games in a row since, well, sometime last year. The return of The Spaceman (AKA O. Scharner) to the centre of defence offered hope of some stability, but it would have to come quickly as today’s encounter with fellow relegation battlers Southampton would be the first in a series of really big games for Wigan Athletic. Hey, did you expect anything more?
Matters began quite favourably as the home side exhibited glimpses of the superlative football that rescued an unlikely point on Tuesday, almost breaking the deadlock on 13 minutes. A neat passing move culminated in Franco Di Santo’s controlled poke goalwards, but Artur Boruc was on hand to deny the Argentine with a spectacular save low to his right.
Gaston Ramirez squandered a wonderful chance at the other end, mishitting his volley with only Al Habsi to beat, and the hosts were soon back pressuring the Saints defence, promptly winning themselves a corner. Beausejour’s delivery from the left was met 12 yards from goal by the head of Gary Caldwell, who guided the ball past Boruc to put his side ahead.
Provoked into action
Much like Latics were sparked into action against Stoke, going a goal behind invigorated the visitors, who became increasingly dominant as the game wore on. They went close to equalising in unorthodox fashion within minutes as James McCarthy’s attempted clearance rebounded off the back of a Saints player and towards Ali Al Habsi, who stretched splendidly to deny a freak of footballing nature.
Has Caldwell finally found a central defensive ally in Paul Scharner?
The half drew to a close with Southampton on the attack, a trend that was to continue for a great majority of what remained of the game. For the time being, Caldwell and Scharner were doing a job for Wigan just like in the olden days, but their resistance could only last so long.
Despite being a goal ahead, one sensed the hosts were slowly unravelling at the back. Southampton had elevated their play to a new level and were now out-muscling, outrunning and generally outplaying Latics in midfield. Rickie Lambert was becoming a real pest as he enjoyed more and more time on the ball, and that equaliser was looking far more likely than a second Wigan goal.
Somewhat predictably, it was Lambert who nodded his side level some 18 minutes into the second half. With an obstreperous travelling support now in great spirits, the visitors were well set to push for the win.
Their attempts to press forward thwarted on each occasion, Wigan remained wholly frustrated. Franco Di Santo sent in a chest-high left foot cross that forced Luke Shaw into a hurried clearance at the back post – perhaps Latics would have enough in them to nick this game yet?
But Southampton were much the hungrier, looking very lively and winning 50-50 balls with alarming ease. Jack Cork cleared a Jordi Gomez corner and with the opposition a touch sparse at the back, Saints could launch an attack. Within thirty seconds, Jay Rodriguez teed up Morgan Schneiderlin, the ball settled in Al Habsi’s net and Wigan lay in pieces.
An unlikely comeback
Ordinarily, one would look to make changes in such a situation, but Martinez had already introduced Gomez and McManaman for Stam and (the excellent) Espinoza before each Southampton goal respectively. Nevertheless, the home side threw everything forward in that search for a much-needed equaliser.
Wigan hadn’t offered much in the second half, but once again showed they are rather good at responding to falling behind. Jean Beausejour sent another corner towards a tightly-packed sardine tin of bodies in the Saints area, and the ball squeezed its way to the back post where a predatory Shaun Maloney could nutmeg Boruc with some ease.
Shaun Maloney salvaged a point for the below average Latics
There was just enough time for sub Angelo Henriquez to make one threatening run down the right wing, but as soon as he was baulked by three defenders, ref Andre Marriner blew for full time with Wigan in possession. Given more time, would Henriquez have had a greater impact?
In truth, what followed Wigan’s first goal was just plain awful. Southampton played a fantastic physical game that cancelled out any intricate passing movement the hosts may have initiated, and though Martinez shuffled his cards, his side could not adapt.
The visitors created more than enough to win the game, but somehow Latics escaped with a point. Though they were ahead for much of the game, they never looked comfortable or threatening enough to win the contest outright. On that basis, one is satisfied to steal a draw in the end – after how poorly we played in the second half, you just have to be happy with it.
Once again, the situation is such that Wigan may well have to pick up wins against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal if they are to survive another season in England’s top flight. Certainly, a win against Reading towards the back end of the month is looking crucial now. But don’t worry – Wigan tend to do a lot better on the road, and with back to back away games to come, don’t rule out a couple of wins.
Window pic courtesy Jean-Pol Grandmont (CC2.0)