Wigan slumped to a disastrous home defeat to Swansea on Saturday. Any positive feeling amongst home spectators prior to the game were soon wiped out by a bizarre team selection, whereby the likes of Victor Moses, Momo Diame and Hugo Rodallega were all left on the substitutes bench. Despite many of the squad travelling across the globe in midweek and only arriving back in the country on Friday, for me, if your best players are available for important matches then they must play.
We, as a club, are not big enough or have a squad big enough to rest such important players. I guess Roberto Martinez would look back to the reverse fixture back in August when Antolin Alcaraz was thrown in to the team only to rupture a thigh muscle after playing a number of games in a short space of time. Alcaraz was missing for 8 weeks as a result, but that’s a risk you take in my eyes.
The first half was a particularly drab affair, with neither side really looking like breaking down the opposition defence. Wigan dominated the opening 15 minutes but failed to make the visitors pay. From that moment on it was Swansea who enjoyed the better of the possession, although there was little penetration.
The biggest problem with how Wigan had set themselves up in the first half was that Conor Sammon is simply nowhere near the level needed to play as a lone front man in this division, against any defence. One thing that has impressed me about Swansea this season is how well they defend, in particular centre halves Ashley Williams and Spurs loanee Steven Caulker have been absolutely solid and have given little away. Putting Sammon up against these two on his own meant that every ball aimed up to him was simply nicked away from him, gifting possession back to the visitors.
Wigan themselves have improved noticeably at the back in recent weeks and have been giving little away themselves. The trouble is, when the ball is coming straight back at you in the way it was on Saturday it puts enormous pressure on the back line, leading to mistakes or the giving away of far more chances, which ultimately will result in goals being conceded.
Indeed, Swansea went in front on the back of a number of late first half chances. Gylfi Sigurdsson was given the freedom of Wigan by the home midfield. It seemed they had totally switched off with the two minutes of stoppage time just about up. In this league you just can’t switch off at any time and Sigurdsson made them pay with a quite brilliant curling effort into the top corner.
The introduction of Momo Diame and Victor Moses at the interval brought fresh life into Wigan’s play and within a minute of the restart Emmerson Boyce almost grabbed an equalliser. He found himself free in the box with only the ‘keeper to beat but somehow a combination of him not connecting properly and the Swansea defence getting numbers back meant the ball was scrambled to safety.
Wigan continued to press forward, whipping balls out to Beausejour and Moses on either flank as often as possible, but gilt-edged chances just never really came Wigan’s way. It seemed the only way the home side were going to draw level was from one of 8 corners they were awarded, but barely a single corner tested the Swansea rearguard.
When Victor Moses needlessly fouled on the edge of his own box the visitors extended their lead against the run of play. It was Gylfi Sigurdsson again who curled a magnificent free kick around the wall and beyond Al Habsi to make it 2-0 with over half an hour still to play, and that was pretty much that, game over. That may sound harsh with 36 minutes still to play but when you’re the lowest scorers in the division and have the worst home record in English football, you can see why that second goal felt like the final nail in the coffin.
Wigan were given a momentary lift with the dismissal of Swans midfielder Nathan Dyer. To say the red card was harsh is putting it mildly. He went in for a one-footed challenge with the ineffective Jordi Gomez and, although his foot was slightly high, it was a booking at the absolute worst.
Being reduced to ten men served only to strengthen the Swansea rearguard as they put men behind the ball and restricted Wigan only to shots from distance. Momo Diame was the only home player that ever looked like popping one in from distance. Not even the introduction of Hugo Rodallega gave any more feeling of a likely goal to give Wigan a chance. In fact the best clear cut chance of the second period went the way of the visitors. James McCarthy gave the ball away on halfway and the impressive Joe Allen was set free on goal only to be brilliantly denied by Al Habsi.
The game simply filtered out into what was, in the end, a simple 2-0 win for the visitors. Wigan were given a real lesson by a clinical Swansea side, who must surely be just about safe with two months of fixtures still to play out. Wigan, so desperate for points, just don’t convert enough chances or convert enough draws into wins. The reverse fixture was a prime example whereby Wigan rode an early Swansea storm but then missed a penalty as well as hitting the post and crossbar in a game they really ought to have won.
What’s more disappointing about the current situation is that the club have worked hard to get more bodies through the turnstiles in recent weeks. Those efforts are clearly working with a crowd of 19,001 at the weekend on the back of a 20,000+ crowd against Aston Villa the previous week. The trouble is, if the product on the pitch is not entertaining or if the team they’re coming to support is not getting the results, it’s going to prove difficult to get those “new” fans to come back.
There’s a fans forum with Roberto Martinez on Monday evening, which should be interesting. There will be some particularly irate fans attending, wanting answers as to recent team selection and results. This is on the back of a meeting with Dave Whelan on the same day, where he too wants an explanation over recent team selection. It’s a worrying time for the manager. He always tends to come out of criticism with positive answers, leaving most feeling positive in return. It’s difficult to see that right now, with the situation seeming so difficult and so many fans seemingly against him.
Following on from the outstanding performance at Bolton three weeks ago there was renewed hope, renewed optimism that the club could stay in the division for an eighth season. Two disappointing home results have totally wiped out all that optimism among the vast majority of Wigan fans. It seems we’re just not capable of performing and getting results in home matches, piling pressure onto each and every away fixture.
The trip to Norwich next weekend now becomes a huge fixture in Wigan’s calendar as the hunt for three points grows all the more desperate. The word desperate may seem extreme when just two points separate the bottom five teams in the Premier League, but when you consider that Wigan’s following three away fixtures are at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and The Emirates, you can see why I’ve opted for the word desperate!
Wigan Athletic: Al Habsi, Alcaraz, McCarthy, Caldwell (c), Di Santo, Gomez, McArthur (Diame 45), Boyce, Sammon (Moses 45), Beausejour, Figueroa (Rodallega 62)
Unused subs: Kirkland, Crusat, Watson, Stam
Starman: Antolin Alcaraz
Swansea City: Vorm, Williams (c), Taylor, Caulker, Britton, Graham (Moore 75), Sinclair, Dyer, Rangel, Allen, Sigurdsson (Tate 63)
Unused subs: Tremmel, Routledge, Monk, McEachran, Gower.
Goals: Sigurdsson 45 (+2), 54
Starman: Joe Allen