A few weeks ago after a win at Anfield I started my report with the line “Wigan pulled off the result of their relatively short lives…” and less than three weeks later I feel it necessary to repeat that. Wigan pulled off the result of their relatively short lives with a stunning win over champions-elect Manchester United at the DW Stadium.
After an unlucky thirteen-game run of Premier League defeats against United, Wigan finally put their hoodoo to bed. The performance was such that in the end the scoreline flattered the illustrious visitors. Wigan had a goal wrongly chalked off and, although United should have had a penalty, just one shot on target all night sums up how ineffective United really were.
Wigan were up for it from the off, imposing their gutsy, determined style of recent weeks onto the game from the first minute. James McCarthy was the first to test David De Gea with a shot from the edge of the box, with the Spaniard turning the ball over for a corner. And it was corners that were to be the eventual undoing of Fergie’s boys.
For each of Wigan’s seven corners on the night they packed the six yard box to make it difficult for the ‘keeper to come and collect the ball. It seemed to be doing the trick when Victor Moses headed home to give Wigan the lead. The celebrations were short-lived as linesman Dave Richardson had flagged for a supposed foul by Gary Caldwell on De Gea.
It was a ridiculous decision from the flag-bearer. What was even more ridiculous was the fact referee Phil Dowd accepted his decision, despite looking right at it from just ten yards away. I don’t know what Premier League linesman have got against Wigan at the moment, but this was a decision that smacked of officials being fearful not to make a mistake against Sir Alex Ferguson for fear of a backlash.
If Wigan fans weren’t angry enough at that call by the officials, they were even more irate when Jonny Evans put in a poor tackle on Franco Di Santo. It was an obvious booking for the Northern Irishman and referee Phil Dowd needed no reminder of the fact. Di Santo waved an imaginary card while down on the floor. It went unseen by Dowd, but Ryan Giggs was on hand to make sure Dowd knew about it and that Di Santo was booked into the bargain. A complete disgrace.
This is the same Ryan Giggs that held his arms out at Phil Dowd at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, intimating that Conor Sammon should be sent off for an elbow on Michael Carrick. The red card was later rescinded. Do referees not learn? Dowd was influenced to make a wrong call there but he allowed Giggs to tell him to produce another card and he did so. It’s not something you want to see in football, although every time I’ve seen Giggs against Wigan he’s wanted the whistle and the cards in his possession instead of the referee.
Shortly after the break Wigan made their dominance count with a well-worked corner. After several corners whipped into the box, the home side elected a different tactic 50 minutes in. Maloney took it short to Beausejour. Maloney, on the overlap, cut inside, went round Wayne Rooney with ease on the edge of the box and curled home an exquisite opening goal from 20 yards. They don’t come much better than that. De Gea had no chance.
There was some irony in the goal. The corner was awarded despite clearly going out of play off Jean Beausejour. Wigan took the lead from a corner that should never have been awarded. Did any Wigan fan inside the DW Stadium care? No, they didn’t. After countless bad luck and bad decisions against United over the years, it’s about time something like that went our way.
Wigan had another stroke of luck midway through the second half. Phil Jones’ cross clearly hit the arm of Maynor Figueroa in the box. It was a clear penalty, the cross travelled some 15 yards and Figueroa had time to get his arms out of the way. In my opinion, linesman Dave Richardson knew he’d made a massive howler by disallowing the header from Victor Moses in the first half and didn’t want to give referees chief Mike Riley another reason to have to apologise to Roberto Martinez after so many recent howlers.
Then followed Manchester United’s only shot on target of the entire evening when Danny Wellbeck turned well in the box and his shot across Al Habsi was well saved by the Omani international. That was as close as United came. Jonny Evans somehow managed to stay on the pitch after a cynical challenge late in the game. Referee Dowd unsurprisingly kept his cards in his pocket.
Five minutes of stoppage time felt like five hours for anxious Wigan supporters inside the DW Stadium but when the full time whistle sounded there was a party to celebrate a home win like no other! No home wins for seven months and then two come along at once, the second was one nobody could have expected.
To beat a Manchester United side, who came into the game on the back of eight straight league wins and had picked up 34 points from a possible 36, was just unthinkable before kick off. Having outplayed Liverpool at Anfield and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge I was immensely confident of gaining a valuable point on the night, but I never dreamed we could get all three, and I don’t think I was the only one! Even Dowd and his dimwit with the flag couldn’t stop Wigan’s march to three valuable and very deserved points.
Special praise has to be given to Shaun Maloney. Since signing from Celtic he’s hardly been near the first team. His introduction at Norwich excited many, and he’s never looked back since. He’s been absolutely outstanding and with the likes of McCarthy and McArthur playing at the very peak of their form it says something that Momo Diame is absolutely nowhere near starting a match. To have a player of his calibre coming on from the bench every game just sums up what a healthy state we’re in going into these vital final five fixtures.
These last four fixtures on the calendar looked daunting with Liverpool, Stoke, Chelsea and Manchester United. You’d have taken three points from that lot, but we’ve picked up NINE! It would have been more but for an ancient liner who’d forgotten to bring his contact lenses at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal away next up. Playing like this you just would not be surprised to see us nick some points from that one either.
Wigan Athletic: Al Habsi, Alcaraz, McCarthy, Caldwell (C), Di Santo (Diame 70), Maloney (Sammon 77), Moses, McArthur, Boyce, Beausejour, Figueroa.
Unused Subs: Crusat, Watson, Pollitt, Gomez, Stam
Goals: Maloney 50
Starman: James McArthur
Manchester Utd: De Gea, Evra (C), Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Rooney (Nani 65), Giggs, Hernandez (Welbeck 58), Carrick, Young (Cleverley 45), Valencia.
Unused Subs: Amos, Smalling, Park, Pogba
Referee: Ryan Giggs