The first ever league meeting between Wigan and Southampton went the way of the visitors after a display of real professionalism from a Wigan side still hurting from the opening minutes of the game against Chelsea the previous week. The home side, on the back of an impressive performance in a narrow defeat to Manchester City, never really got a foothold in the game and failed to make their home advantage tell.
Wigan’s only change was summer arrival Arouna Kone coming in to replace Victor Moses, who completed a £9m transfer to Chelsea the night before. Kone played as a lone striker, with Franco Di Santo taking up the wing role previously occupied by Moses.
The task for Wigan was always going to be to contain a Saints side playing their first Premier League home match for seven years. As with the first away match of the previous season at Swansea, it’s important to try and frustrate the opposition and take chances to counter-attack when the opportunity arises. And that’s pretty much how this one panned out.
After a goalless first half, Wigan wasted little time in asserting their authority on the game. After some neat build-up play and a lovely through ball from Shaun Maloney, Franco Di Santo turned and fired an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net beyond a helpless Kelvin Davis to put his side in front.
The goal left Southampton chasing the game, but as Wigan defended doggedly, they became increasingly frustrated and continued to find Ali Al Habsi in unbeatable form between the posts. In the first half Al Habsi had brilliantly palmed a drive from home captain Adam Lallana onto the crossbar, and he was at it again in the second half, turning away efforts from first Daniel Fox and then big goal threat Rickie Lambert.
The one time Al Habsi was beaten the crossbar again came to his rescue when Jos Hooiveld’s header rattled the woodwork. The home side dug deep but never really had enough puff to blow Wigan’s house down, and they were made to pay the price late in the game.
Arouna Kone robbed the ball off Fonte and had a clear run at goal. No Saints defender had the legs to get back and Kone finished powerfully into the bottom corner to beat the advancing Kelvin Davis and seal three well-earned points for the visitors. As first goals for your club go, it was a superb finish where others may have panicked and fluffed the effort.
It was a thoroughly professional job done by Wigan, one of the most impressive away displays I’ve seen since promotion to the Premier League. They came with a job to do and they did it well. Although Southampton had the better chances, Wigan had the bulk of possession and showed the hosts what it takes to perform in the Premier League after so many seasons out of the top flight.
It’s a measure of how far Wigan have come under Roberto Martinez that they can go away in the Premier League now and play the same system and style of play that was so fruitful towards the end of last season. The midfield dominated, the defence was solid and Al Habsi was as reliable as ever. If the club can get the best out of the likes of Kone and Di Santo then there could well be a good season ahead.