Roberto’s ‘Other’ Victories

This article first appeared in All Gone Latics 06, May 2015.

Roberto thanks the fans

Everybody knows about Roberto Martinez’s greatest successes. They’re immortalised in banners above the Grand Arcade, specially themed season review DVDs and doodles of Ben ‘Maloneyinto’ Watson at the back of school exercise books from Hindley to Haydock. But what of those smaller mercies, the victories that meant so much until time pushed them to the back of the parade bus like a ‘Believe’ flag or crushed can of Irn Bru?

Hey, it’s not surprising that some things are forgotten. After filling 87% of my brain with FA Cup memories, there’s scarcely enough room for my day-to-day routine. Hence, it’s fortunate that I wrote down notes for every game in the Martinez era just to compile this article. Yes, my entire diary-writing career has been building up to this day, when I can dust off the old volumes and remind you of those little pockets of joy that sadly got lost in transit when Bobby moved to Merseyside.

How many can you remember?

Aston Villa 0-2 Wigan Athletic, 15 August 2009

OK, so maybe Hugo Rodallega’s goal has been replayed in the DW concourse enough for this game to be remembered as it should. But there is a danger his efforts will be overshadowed by Maynor’s Figueroa ‘moon ball’ 60-yarder that came just four months later, and for this reason Rodders gets a place here. Well, that and the fact Roberto’s first competitive game simply could not have played out any smoother.

Taking advantage of Villa’s early season stodginess (they would eventually finish 6th and qualify for the Europa League), the quick-passing and lively Latics introduced Bob’s distinctive style to the Premier League with a certain dismissiveness that would eventually reap great reward at their second home, Wembley Stadium.

The journey, however, began here at Villa Park, where Jason ‘Whatever Did Happen To Him?’ Koumas rounded off a fine afternoon by scoring in the miniature goalmouth between Brad Friedel’s legs. For the record, Koumas was loaned to Cardiff City before his eventual release in 2011, having scored a total of two Latics goals – this was surely his greatest moment in a Wigan Athletic shirt.

Tottenham 0-1 Wigan, 28 August 2010

Skip forward twelve months, and lucky mascot Our Hugo was proving that one goal can be just as effective as nine. Roberto’s perfect time to score was the final fifteen minutes, because it allowed little space for teams to tear down the Wigan wall, a barricade of one-two-threes and precious seconds eaten by strategic long throws… from their own corner flag.

It mightn’t have been as powerful as his strike at Villa Park, but Rodallega’s 80th minute sweep across Cudicini’s decks was just as well-placed. Mo Diame served up a crisp golden chip for Hugo to bring to the turf with one touch and ram home with the next – the finish of a true goalscorer.

Though many termed this a ‘shock’ victory following Wigan’s 4-0 and 6-0 losses to Blackpool and Chelsea respectively, the reality was that such a result could come against anyone at any time under Martinez. Only the bravest of souls would ‘miss that odd match against Liverpool’ or ‘watch that Man United game on Match of the Day’ – each weekend brought a lottery of excitement.

Sunderland 1-2 Wigan, 26 November 2011

These were dark times for Wigan Athletic, below even Bolton in the league table and without a win in three months. But a collective sense of injustice proved a uniting force – remember Morten Gamst Pedersen passing that corner ‘to himself’? Ref Andre Marriner certainly didn’t, and Latics fans bemoaned two ‘stolen’ points.

Whether Steve Bruce’s final game in charge of Sunderland was a case of karma rebalancing for Latics, Ben Watson knows. But when Wes Brown gifted James McArthur possession in the very last minute, Franco Di Santo had only an open goal to hit for instant exorcism of this restless and particularly infuriating spirit.

With the ghost of Blackburn laid to rest, Wigan went on to flatten Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal and Newcastle with a steamroller named ‘Believe’. However, these are the aforementioned games of exercise book and ‘Premier League Years’ legend, so I won’t talk about them. Fast forward to the 2012-13 season…

Wigan 3-2 Reading, 24 November 2012

A headline writer’s dream. Birthday boy Dave Whelan was treated to the ‘perfect’ Jordi Gomez hat-trick (right foot, left foot, header)… but that’s only half the story of a pulsating afternoon at the DW Stadium.

After Weetabix-powered cereal addict Sean Morrison opened the scoring with a bullet header, the industrious hosts re-asserted their authority with two well-worked goals in the space of ten minutes.

But Ali Al Habsi went from Gordon Banks to Gordon Bennett, following a spectacular ‘on the line’ save with a mistimed fingertip push into his own goal as opposed to over the bar.

Thankfully, Gomez wasn’t quite done yet. Martinez sides attack in threes, and when Kone floated one over to the ex-Barcelona youth man, a glorious last-minute winner seemed as inevitable as March is Wigan Time.

It had been as exciting as any game in Wigan’s Premier League life, but because it came just two weeks before ‘that’ cup run, you might just have forgotten about it. I mean, I don’t blame you – the events of 2013 have a tendency to mask anything and everything that’s ever happened in the history of the club, or even your own life.

Wigan Athletic FA Cup parade

West Brom 2-3 Wigan, 4 May 2013

Hey, it happens every once in a while – good sides are relegated. Remember, it isn’t often that ‘bad’ teams win the FA Cup, defeating Premier League champions in the process. But amidst a spring of sheer delight and emotion, the 2012/13 fight for survival must have seemed like a ‘sideshow’ to Ben Watson’s Big Top of Shiny Cups.

Roberto’s final Premier League hurrah mightn’t have been his greatest performance, but neither were those FA Cup ties in January and February. As long as the result is ultimately satisfying, games such as these will continue to make lists of ‘Wigan Athletic’s forgotten victories’. Perhaps.

Though Shane Long caught Latics on the hop, Arouna Kone rose highest to convert Jean Beausejour’s pinpoint cross for the equaliser. Yeah, he beat four defenders to the ball and everything – not bad for a guy who ‘couldn’t score’.

Supersub James McArthur cancelled out Gareth McAuley’s header with one of his own to bring the visitors level once more. And when Shaun Maloney bamboozled a battalion of defenders, Callum McManaman was waiting to sidefoot home unchallenged and keep Wigan Time ticking.

At that point the Great Escape MkXIII was still alive, but cup exploits had ultimately taken precedence, and Wigan Athletic’s soul was spent on the greatest victory of them all. But d’you know what? I think I’ll take that trade.

Roberto appaluse

Dan Farrimond, Jesus Was a Wiganer (http://wigan.illarterate.co.uk)

The pictures in the article are (c)Illarterate.

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