Wigan Athletic once more played with confidence, style and determination, as they had against Manchester United a little over two weeks ago. This first half display with four spectacular goals completely blew away a 4th placed Newcastle team that had arrived full of confidence after 6 consecutive victories.
From the start the Jimmy Macs - McCarthy and McArthur - ruled the midfield, barely allowing the visitors a touch of the ball. This laid the foundation for the wing backs to play more like wingers and the forward players to slice holes in the Newcastle defence. The little genius, Maloney, was orchestrating it all from midfield and the end result was a fluid attacking style with more than a touch of class. Vintage football indeed!
The first goal arrived in the 13th minute when Moses got the back of his head to wing back Boyce’s cross for the ball to loop past Krul. The second arrived two minutes later when another of those beautiful curling crosses from the other wing back, Beausejour, was making its way towards Di Santo at the far post. The unfortunate Coloccini got in its way but the ball ricocheted to Moses who hit it home with aplomb. The third was a real gem with Di Santo putting Maloney through on the left. The little man raced inside to put the coolest of finishes past Krul with a low drive to the far post. Then as half time beckoned Di Santo showed us his superb technique in lobbing Krul, the ball reeling into the top left hand corner leaving the goalkeeper helpless. A breathtaking first half.
The second half could not live up to the first, with Newcastle coming more into the game. The dangerous Papiss Cisse (11 goals in 11 games for Newcastle, 37 in 65 previously for Freiburg in the Bundesliga) was to draw a fine save from Al Habsi and to hit the woodwork twice during that second half. Latics did have chances. Moses drew a fine save from Krul and Sammon almost scored after a great run, his effort being blocked practically on the line by Coloccini.
Latics had 57% of the possession, having 6 shots on target compared with 2 for the visitors. Wigan committed 15 fouls and Newcastle 12. Two yellow cards for Latics, one for Newcastle.
The first half performance was probably the most spectacular in Wigan Athletic’s history. This was no fluke, but more the result of a long process of building the foundations for future success. Over the past weeks Roberto Martinez’s vision has been put into practice by the players. Interesting that in a post match interview when asked what has been the basis for the recent successes, Shaun Maloney put it down to work rate. Latics now work really hard to get the ball back when they lose it. Moreover there are players making 30-40 yard runs on a regular basis. It is this increased work rate that means that the centre forward is no longer alone, but supported by team mates coming in from all directions. The change to the defensive trio and wing backs was the catalyst that helped the players change their mind sets and play to their strengths. A central defence that was leaky has now become a rock. Confidence now surges through the Latics’ ranks, in place of the fear that was present for so long this season.
Following a performance like that – on the back of wins against Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal – Roberto Martinez has become a target for speculation among the media. Why would a manager who can produce teams that can play that kind of football want to continue to work on a shoestring at Wigan? Let’s hope that this speculation does not upset the momentum that the team has built up. Losses for QPR and Blackburn today make it increasingly likely that Latics will maintain their Premier League status.
Ali Al Habsi: 8 – Another good display.
Emmerson Boyce: 8 – Tireless in his efforts to support the attack and solid in defence.
Antolin Alcaraz: 9 – In top form again. Looks a quality player.
Gary Caldwell: 9 – Superb yet again.
Maynor Figueroa: 9.5 – In the best form of his Latics’ career. His interceptions and powerful tackles have been so important over recent weeks.
Jean Beausejour: 8 – A complete player. What a January signing!
James McCarthy: 9.5 – Took the initiative from the start. Hugely energetic and technically gifted.
James McArthur: 9.0 – Superb yet again. Runs himself into the ground for his team. Put in lots of neat passes too.
Shaun Maloney: 9.5 – The little magician engineered most of Latics’ best moves. Took his goal superbly.
Victor Moses: 8.5 – Took his goals well and was a constant threat to the Newcastle defence.
Franco Di Santo: 9 – Another superb exhibition of leading the line. Brilliant goal.
Conor Sammon: – Once again gave 100%. Unlucky with a fine run in the final minutes.
Jordi Gomez: – Came on and fitted in seamlessly.