They occur every season, those pivotal games that can dictate the outcome of a whole campaign. Though today wasn’t quite as important as Blackpool 2011 or Blackburn 2012 –don’t worry, contests of that magnitude are to come before the morning of 20 May 2013 arrives–, it was still critical that Latics leave the capital with at least something to show for their endeavours.
Those bemoaning Wednesday evening were largely correct in that no points were gained, but it wasn’t a totally fruitless effort. A demoralising thrashing successfully avoided, Wigan’s goal difference remained superior to Aston Villa’s heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures. Due to the fact Villa play on Monday evening, a place outside the relegation zone for at least 48 hours was the juicy prize on offer for three valuable points today.
However, you can’t play three matches in a week and not expect to suffer at least some repercussions. Ordinarily I would have backed Latics to snatch all three points with great certainty, but two big games on the road just inserted the minutest of bugs into that well-oiled Wigan (Heinz) bean machine.
On the other hand, the team has recently tapped into a rich seam of form not witnessed since the Everton triumph, so a resounding victory would not have been out of the question either. Ooh, for the latter and just a sliver of comfort….
In a difficult first half, Latics struggled for defensive stability. They were forced to abandon their ‘extra man at the back’ approach when Antolin Alcaraz hobbled off after 15 minutes, leading to much uncertainty in the back third.
Prior to this, the visitors had been exceptional going forward, and possibly should have took the lead on 10 minutes. Another top-drawer passing move culminated in a Maloney one-on-one with Jaaskelainen, but the Finn closed down well to deny him a third goal in four games.
West Ham proceeded to take control in all areas of the pitch, not least the Wigan penalty area. This was sparked by a somewhat soft 21st minute goal credited to Matt Jarvis, and Latics found it hard to regain any sort of possession for the remainder of the half.
Thankfully, The Hammers’ ability to find the target petered out as the half drew to a close, and Wigan would have been happy enough taking just a one-goal deficit into the break. Not entirely, of course, but at this point the game was salvageable as long as they could find some of the quality that had served them so well in the past week.
Antolin Alcaraz departed early on. Come back soon, Ant!
Realising their very survival could be at stake, Latics came at West Ham hard. Summoning the powers of Wednesday, they gradually began to turn the contest in their favour with some excellent ball retention. In fact, by the 75th minute, the hosts had been reduced to mere spectators, unable to even get a touch.
Wigan’s effort during this time cannot be faulted, but sadly you win games with goals, not fancy football. For all their pressing and harassing in and around the Hammers area, a shot to challenge Jaaskelainen was a rare occurrence. You could say McArthur was unlucky to be denied expertly at close range by the West Ham keeper, but the hosts’ defensive qualities were greater than Wigan’s finishing touch.
Of course, much like against City, West Ham delivered the sucker punch and Latics were absolutely deflated. The less said about this, the better. (Mostly because I stopped following the game, but don’t tell anyone )
The survival race is far from over, but today could be a real killer. With teams above us winning, only Aston Villa are now within touching distance and that final day showdown at the DW is looking increasingly like a proper collar-fiddler. To coin a phrase.
Remember my bold statement that we will be fine? Well, that was based on the fact we played as well as Wednesday. The second half display wasn’t far from that – Latics gave absolutely everything they had, and it was not enough.
However, I am not about to adjust my prediction just yet. As we know all too well, it’d be utterly foolish to write off Wigan at any point. We’ve escaped from worse positions with worse squads, and there will surely be better days. Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
Steve McQueen image copyright its respective owner.