Wigan and Stoke drew 2-2 for the fourth time in the past seven meetings on Saturday afternoon. Against a Stoke side bereft of any footballing qualities and entirely reliant on set pieces, Wigan twice hit the front but failed to hang on to their lead.
The hosts took the lead from the penalty spot after James McCarthy’s effort struck the outstretched arm of Robert Huth. Referee Martin Atkinson, who had a game to forget, pointed straight to the spot and Shaun Maloney tucked away the spot kick.
Wigan’s early dominance meant Stoke had little opportunity to get on the ball and force an equaliser. Their kick and chase tactics didn’t work as knock-downs from Peter Crouch were regularly picked up on by the home defence.
Stoke were forced to rely entirely on set pieces for their attempts at goal. Jonathan Walters, who spent most of the afternoon doing impressions of Tom Daley, regularly conned referee Atkinson into the award of free kicks in dangerous areas.
But it was a set piece of a different kind that drew the visitors level. When the ball rolled up the chest and onto the hand of Maynor Figueroa, Atkinson again pointed to the spot. You’d say it was soft, but having given one at the other end for handball, he was always going to give that one too. Walters picked himself up off his backside and tucked away the spot kick.
Despite Wigan’s brilliant opening to the game, the introduction of deadline day signing Charlie Adam and the equalising goal gave Stoke new impetus and it was the home side that needed the half time whistle in the end.
Wigan began the second half as they started the first, playing all the football and eating up most of Stoke’s long balls. Early into the second period Wigan went deservedly back in front.
Franco Di Santo broke with the ball from a Stoke attack. His ball up the line found Arouna Kone and after he held off two Stoke defenders he played a neat ball into the path of Di Santo, who curled a lovely finish into the bottom corner for his fifth goal in his last eight appearances. The Argentine striker really is at the peak of his form.
The home side just needed that killer third goal and their work for the afternoon would have been complete. Wigan players regularly glided past a hapless Ryan Shawcross to get a sight of goal but chances were squandered and it allowed Stoke back into the game.
Needless to say it was a set piece that got Stoke back in it. From a throw-in down Wigan’s right-hand side Walters lofted the ball up towards Peter Crouch, who couldn’t miss his header from six yards out.
For all Wigan’s dominance and my regular comments to myself of “please don’t draw this game” it was the visitors that could have gone away with all three points. They had the best chances after their second equaliser.
The best chance to snatch the three points came when Charlie Adam’s free kick (yes, another one!) hit Gary Caldwell on the back. Al Habsi was going one way and was forced to make a late change of direction and made a stunning save with his right hand just as the ball was about to pass him.
It would have been a travesty for football had Stoke come away with the points from this one. For much of the afternoon I felt like I was attending a rugby league match. I give credit to Stoke fans for paying to watch that every week, because I couldn’t do it. It’s painful to watch and isn’t how football should be played at all.
Someone told me before the game that Stoke had won something like 11 of their last 36 matches. With the sort of dross they put on display at the DW Stadium for much of this one it’s clear to see why.
Fulham are the next visitors to the DW in three weeks time and I for one can’t wait for a return to some proper football. This afternoon at the DW Stadium has left me feeling physically sick!
Latics team: Al Habsi, Kone, McCarthy, Caldwell (C), Di Santo (Miyaichi 80), Maloney, McArthur (Watson 76), Boyce, Ramis, Beausejour (Jones 29), Figueroa
Unused subs: Pollitt, Crusat, Gomez, Boselli
Goals: Maloney pen 5, Di Santo 49
Starman: Franco Di Santo
Stoke team: Begovic, Cameron, Huth, Whelan, Wilson, Shawcross (C), Whitehead, Walters, Kightly (Jerome 75), Crouch, Wilkinson (Adam 36)
Unsued Subs: Sorenson, Pennant, Jones, Edu, Upson
Goals: Walters pen 40, Crouch 76