*contributed by Jakarta Jack, whose writing regularly graces Los Three Amigos of Wigan.
Was this going to be the turning point in our season? It’s the 85th minute, all equal at 1-1, Wigan Athletic dominating and Norwich on the back foot. Mohamed Diame has just come on as a substitute. Shaun Maloney skillfully beats the right-back and plays a lovely ball across from the left, leaving an open goal for him. Diame somehow kicks it over the bar.
It was an all-too-familiar pattern. So many times this season Latics have been the better team but have not been able to kill off the opposition. The result — Latics remain in the mire, glued to the bottom, with very difficult fixtures against top teams fast approaching. Norwich continue to punch above their weight, 15 points ahead of Latics this season with a squad that is certainly no better than ours. They seem to be experts at getting goals out of the blue, as did Hoolahan in the 10th minute when he somehow got a poke of the ball ahead of Caldwell from a speculative cross. In the 68th minute, Victor Moses had leveled the score after latching on to a lovely through ball from Shaun Maloney, finishing with aplomb. A far cry from the wretched finishing we have seen from him in previous games. One of our two main strikers, he has now scored 3 goals in 28 appearances. The other striker on the day was Hugo Rodallaga, energetic and involved, going close on several occasions. He has scored 2 in 22, although half of those appearances were made as a substitute. But goalscoring is not merely in the strikers’ domain. The midfield sadly lacked a goalscoring touch in this match, Diame the main culprit on more than one occasion, but he was not alone in his profligacy.
Match statistics show that Wigan enjoyed 55% of the possession and committed 8 fouls to Norwich’s 12. Although it was not a rough match, each team ended the match with four yellow cards. Wigan had 20 shots (7 on goal) to Norwich’s 14 (2 on goal). Ruddy made 6 saves, Al Habsi just one, thought it was a brilliant one, keeping out a goal-bound header from Morison in the last minute.
Latics did not lose and played with some degree of confidence. They were clearly trying to win, rather than not to lose. They showed commitment and played some good football in an entertaining match.
The substitution of an ineffective Gomez for Maloney brought forth a much more creative midfield. Maloney was a risky signing over the summer, given his previous injury record. In this match he looked classy and for once Wigan had a midfield player who could put forward a defence splitting pass. The question is whether he can stay fit long enough to make a real impact on the end of the season.
This was a point gained, but in reality two points lost. You have to be able to beat lower mid table teams like Norwich if you want to maintain your Premier League status. Three points were needed. Perhaps if we had beaten Everton, Swansea or Blackburn at home, this result could have been viewed as a success. But our poor home form has meant we need maximum points from all fixtures against teams mid-table or lower.
The lack of finishing tarnished an otherwise good performance. Rodallega continues to struggle with his finishing and none of the big clubs is going to want him on current form, even as a free agent. If Diame was a better finisher a top tier club would have paid serious money for him several transfer windows ago. He has huge potential, but is out of contract at the end of the season. Much though I admire his skill and technique he has repeatedly wasted goalscoring opportunities in his stay at Wigan and rarely puts through the killer pass for his strikers. The irony is that he is only 24 and we will probably only see him at his best when he goes to another team and matures there.
Much of the Wigan fans’ frustration continues to be vented at Jordi Gomez. For several matches now he has been below par, but has still made the starting lineup. Roberto Martinez’s shows a lot of faith in players, Gomez in particular. However, there comes a point at which you need to make some changes. Given current form Gomez does not merit a place in the starting lineup.
Our best wing back, Ronnie Stam, has been noticeably absent from recent lineups. Playing Emmerson Boyce at right wing back gives us more defensive strength and this could be key in the matches coming up against the top teams. However, against mid range teams Stam’s attacking skills should be used to effect. Why was he not brought on against Norwich?
Ali Al Habsi: 7 – An outstanding save in the last minute saved a point. Otherwise solid.
Emmerson Boyce: 7 – Solid in defence but limited going forward.
Antolin Alcaraz: 8 – Back to form, looks a good player again.
Gary Caldwell: 7 – Playing well at the moment, although shares some blame for Norwich’s goal.
Maynor Figueroa: 8 – A good performance. Seems to play better as a third centre back than as a left full back where his distribution can let him down.
Jean Beausejour: 5 – Not his usual self. Apparently he was carrying a slight injury, sustained during the warm-up.
James McCarthy: 7 – Worked hard in front of the defence, but still not showing the kind of attacking flair we need. It is time he got on the scoresheet. Taken off after 85 minutes.
James McArthur: 7 – Worked hard as usual in closing the opposition down and putting through passes.
Jordi Gomez: 4 – Poor, justifiably taken off after 56 minutes for Shaun Maloney.
Victor Moses: 8 –. Played well, taking his goal beautifully and causing headaches for the Norwich defence.
Hugo Rodallega: 6 – Energetic enough but let down once again by poor finishing.
Shaun Maloney: 9 – Provided the kind of midfield creativity that has been sadly lacking previously this season. His passes should have led to more goals.
Mohamed Diame: – Came on after 85 minutes for McCarthy and immediately involved. Went on a fantastic mazy run only to trickle his shot into the keeper’s hands. Then had an empty net to tap into, but put the ball over the bar. Should have won the match for Wigan.