Statistics are great if you’re a Championship Manager fanatic, but football matches are not automatically generated on a video screen (at least not yet). Heading into this afternoon’s potential Blockbuster, form suggested a tough weekend in store for the ailing Wigan Athletic, their very FA Premier League existence in Jeopardy.
Recent league fortunes could not have been more contrasting: the Reading Masterteam had defeated Newcastle, Sunderland and West Brom on their way to the brink of the safety zone. Latics, meanwhile, were in desperate need of three points having failed to win a game in 2013 thus far. You know all about this, so it would be Pointless for me to continue.
Could Roberto Strike it Lucky and Mastermind another Great Escape? Alright, that last one was a film. I’ll stop the game shows theme now, because it’s a gimmick overused in the general blogosphere… possibly.
The first ten minutes were good for Latics, who could have carved out the game’s opening goal through Franco Di Santo. Receiving the ball from McCarthy on half way, the Argentine spectacularly turned his man and powered towards the Reading penalty area. Only a fine touch round the post from Adam Federici prevented Di Santo’s 20-yard strike creeping into the bottom corner.
The Royals wrested back some control, and could also have opened the scoring through Jimmy Kebe on 13 minutes. Al Habsi may have struggled had the Mali international’s strike been just a bit more accurate, but as the ball swerved wide of his left hand post, he remained untested. In fact, the Omani wouldn’t have a single save to make in the opening 45.
Though the hosts bossed possession for the next 20 minutes or so, Wigan always looked dangerous on the break. This threat would be magnified when they experienced a second wind some five minutes from the half time whistle. Arouna Kone had earlier drawn a second superb stop from Federici, but with Wigan now streaming forward with great menace, that deadlock was soon to be broken.
Gary Caldwell threw himself at a Jean Beausejour corner, but completely fluffed his headed effort. Thankfully, the ball fell perfectly for Maynor Figueroa to head across goal, and soon it was resting in the back of the net via Kone’s chest. Although he didn’t know much about it, the Ivorian will rightfully claim the goal as his deflection ensured none of Reading’s goal line patrol could react in time to clear.
Wigan were now riding the crest of a wave. Their lead was to be doubled deep into stoppage time when Kone, finding himself in acres of space to run at goal, polished off Beausejour’s sublime through ball with the same nonchalant ease that earned him his second against Huddersfield last week.
The third and killer goal came in much the same well-constructed fashion, except this time it was Di Santo who aided and abetted Figueroa with a neat one-two that set up the Honduran for a low left-foot finish. It’s worth reiterating: he doesn’t score many, but when he does they’re classics.
Now in total control, Wigan very nearly made it four just minutes later – Di Santo slightly checked his run and could not stretch to poke home Boyce’s cross. But the final stake through Reading’s heart came of their own hand, as Pavel Progrebnyak produced the latest of late challenges to test Figueroa’s shinbone to its fullest. A reckless challenge that warranted Marmite Man Phil Dowd’s red card, and the Royals were all but finished.
Passing out time
Three goals in credit, the visitors were afforded that oh-so-rare luxury of passing out time, and did so with composure. Figueroa, Di Santo and later Gomez tested Federici from long-range, but on the whole Latics were content to keep the ball and take that clean sheet. As a result, the next 25 minutes or so were dead time as far as competitive football was concerned – not that the travelling contingent of about 500 were the slightest bit irked.
Amongst the jubilation Wigan could also celebrate the return of an old friend. The lesser spotted Antolin Alcaraz completed 11 minutes of game time to signal his long-awaited comeback, just in time for the final stretch of games (all ‘cup finals’?) in the 2013 season.
Defeated, Reading could only accept their fate. Thanks to a devastating spell of seven in-game minutes which reaped three crucial goals, the visitors had fully earned the right to finish this game in training ground mode. The end result is three points whose importance cannot be quantified with mere words, and a place outside the relegation zone for the time being.
Phew, I feel a lot better about our survival chances after that. Is this the start of the big push we’ve been waiting for? We’ll have to see, but Liverpool had better watch out. Good game, good game…
Madejski image courtesy Mark Hillary (CC2.0)