Dark days at the DW as Roberto Martinez's Wigan were outdone by a side he assembled and styled, but couldn't break down. It was a painful, if strangely comforting realization that while Swansea are currently much better at executing the Spaniard's footballing vision, at least they are living proof that it can actually work.
This fixture had been seen by most Latics supporters as a must-win — indeed three points would have boosted the side out of the relegation zone. It was one of three winnable fixtures before the terrifying weeks ahead involving trips to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, the Emirates, and the visit of Manchester United. Swansea, while a respectable side, had a poor away record, and we had deserved to win the reverse fixture. The mood before kickoff was optimistic.
Of course, it all went wrong. Martinez’s team selection has been criticized by just about everyone including Dave Whelan, who took issue with the absence of “three quality players” in the starting lineup — presumably Mo Diame, Hugo Rodallega and Victor Moses. The manager has since attributed their omissions to the effects of travel from the international break, with one player arriving late Friday night ahead of the Saturday afternoon kickoff. While this was true of Diame and Moses, both in Africa on international duty, it was not so of Hugo Rodallega, who has long lost his place in the Colombian national squad.
The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Conor Sammon at centre-forward, while Franco Di Santo would take over the free role traditionally reserved for Victor Moses. The pair delivered their weakest performances for the club, with Sammon making a mess of the single promising breakaway he was involved in and Di Santo completely lost in a position he was clearly not familiar with. Jean Beausejour was again lively in the first half, but neither Sammon nor Di Santo ever looked like tucking away his crosses. Emmerson Boyce went closest with a far post header.
Swansea had threatened on several occasions, with Ali Al-Habsi looking sharp and Gary Caldwell clearing off the line. They got their reward just before half-time, when Gylfi Sigurdsson was allowed to take two touches before curling an excellent shot past Al-Habsi from outside the box.
Martinez made two half-time changes, introducing Victor Moses and Mo Diame for James McArthur and Conor Sammon — almost to immediate effect. But just as a Latics equalizer looked possible, Sigurdsson struck again — this time from a direct free-kick. His two strikes were the kind of quality Latics have lacked this season that Charles N’Zogbia provided last time around. Jordi Gomez, one of the few in the side capable of shooting like that, has simply not done it.
He did, however, get himself fouled and Nathan Dyer received a red card to give Latics some hope. Hugo Rodallega’s introduction added a bit of movement to the attack moments later, but Michel Vorm was excellent and Wigan’s finishing was uninspired.
Not much. Beausejour’s first half (his second was poor). Sustained pressure and a series of half chances in the second half. Rodallega when he came on.
This is a troublesome result. We can still survive, results elsewhere have been kind. But the club needs points urgently. If we fail to get at least 4 points from the next two matches, we could be cut adrift going into the final stretch. Roberto is hosting a Q&A with fans as I type. He needs to regain their support, and motivate his team for the crucial next two matches.
A Neutral Would Say
Latics improved dramatically with the introductions of Moses, Diame and Rodallega. But the finishing was poor. Swansea deserved the points.
Al Al-Habsi: 7 – Takes some blame for the second goal, but was otherwise outstanding, making a number of crucial saves.
Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Not at fault for the goals.
Gary Caldwell: 6 — Was enjoying a decent performance with a couple key tackles/clearances. And then the goals flew in.
Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Struggled with Dyer. Ironically one of Latics best attacking players when he got forward — delivered two of the best crosses all match.
Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Did not contribute much going forward, and had trouble with Sinclair.
Jean Beausejour: 6 — Very good in first half, poor in second. It is becoming a pattern for him — lack of match fitness?
James McArthur: 6 — Worked hard but lost the midfield battle in the first half. Substituted in second.
James McCarthy: 6 — See James McArthur for first half. A bit more possession in second but no cutting edge.
Jordi Gomez: 5 — Did not produce.
Franco Di Santo: 5 — Looked lost and finished poorly, his weakest performance in some time.
Conor Sammon: 4 — Like a fish out of water.
Hugo Rodallega: 7 — Looked far more likely to score when he came on than anyone else.
Mo Diame: 6 — His finishing was poor, but good attacking intent and skill to create openings.
Victor Moses: 6 — Bright start that faded after Swansea’s second, and the sending off.