Match Report: Wigan Athletic 0-0 Liverpool (Wigan Fan's Perspective)
Wigan and Liverpool played out a pulsating goalless draw at the DW Stadium on Wednesday evening. Going into the game you'd be forgiven for having this one down as an away banker. Liverpool had picked up an impressive 15 points on their travels, more than their hosts had picked up home and away combined. But it's a different Wigan we're seeing at the moment, as Liverpool found out to their cost.
Wigan were unchanged yet again for this one. In fact, since naming his side to play Blackburn six games ago, Roberto Martinez has made only one change to his starting eleven in the last six matches (Alcaraz in for Gohouri). It's a consistent and settled Wigan side which, the Arsenal result aside, is really doing the business right now.
On the night the Reds always looked threatening going forward. Dirk Kuyt looked really dangerous as he regularly found himself free in space between Wigan's midfield and defence. Luis Suarez, selected despite the furore surrounding his impending ban for alleged comments made to Patrice Evra, also looked lively and threatening both with and without the ball.
And it was Suarez who earned Liverpool the best chance of the game. His overhead kick hit the hand of Wigan skipper Gary Caldwell in the box. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. But the home supporters were sent into raptures when Ali Al-Hasbi saved heroically from Charlie Adam's spot kick. It was the fourth time this season Liverpool have missed from the penalty spot, but take nothing away from Al-Habsi as the penalty was struck with some venom. His save sums up just how dogged and determined Wigan are looking at the minute. The players have a real desire to keep out the opposition at all costs, which is great to see.
For me the penalty decision was slightly harsh as Caldwell was off balance and had little time to react and get his arm out of the way. On the flip side you'd have to question what his arms were doing there in the first place. Frustratingly, Wigan were on the other end of a similar incident in the previous game against Chelsea but Ivanovic's handball in the box went unpunished. I guess this comes down to that old chestnut of "referee's interpretation" but for me if there's a handball in the box it shouldn't matter who the referee is when it comes to making the right decision.
Liverpool's biggest threat to goal on the night was from set pieces. Suarez had a 20-yard free-kick brilliantly palmed over the bar by Al-Habsi and Martin Skrtel headed over from six yards in the second half from one of Liverpool's 14 corners.
Wigan's chances were few and far between but on the break Victor Moses was causing problems for the visitors. In the first half he brilliantly broke free from several challenges and ran beyond the Liverpool defence only to see his shot fisted away by Pepe Reina. In the second half Moses also stabbed wide from a corner when he perhaps should have hit the target.
Substitute Hugo Rodallega linked up well with fellow sub Franco Di Santo in the second half. The same combination led to the equaliser against Chelsea at the weekend and the pair brought an unsettled look to the Liverpool back four during the 20 minutes they were paired together.
To be fair to Roberto Martinez at 0-0 he could have happily settled for the point but by bringing on Rodallega he showed clear intent to try and grab a winner. It wasn't to be as Liverpool, in the main, defended excellently on the night and gave little away. Only Manchester United have shipped few goals on their travels than the Reds, and you could see why.
It has to be said that on the night the performance of referee Michael Oliver was simply awful. It shouldn't have been a difficult game to referee but he made it look as if it was. I lost count of the number of free kicks he awarded Liverpool around the edge of Wigan's box that no one in the ground believed to be a free kick, except him. I'm all in favour of younger referees but to promote someone aged just 26 to the Premier League after so little experience in the Football League has clearly done him no favours.
So it's points from the last six games for Wigan since that change of formation against Blackburn. It's certainly done the trick as the players look more comfortable and we've got the results to go with it. If you add on the two points that Andre Marriner's gaffe cost us against Blackburn then the recent resurgence looks even more impressive.
On that point, it has to be said that the Blackburn result was a key moment in our season. The 99th minute equaliser could easily have knocked the stuffing out of us going into the next set of fixtures, and most expected that to be the case. However, we then made the trip to Sunderland and put in a dogged and determined performance to make up for the previous result. Those three points at the Stadium of Light really propelled us back into the mix and have been a springboard for the recent results and performances. Roberto Martinez, quite rightly, stated after the Sunderland game that our season starts here.
The players don't seem to fear any opposition in this current run. The trip to Old Trafford on Boxing Day may test that theory, but the points picked up in recent weeks almost mean we go there with little or no pressure on us to get a result.
Wigan: Al Habsi, Caldwell, Alcaraz, Figueroa, Stam, Jones (Watson 74), Diame, McCarthy, Moses, Gomez (Rodallega 74), Sammon (Di Santo 61). Subs n ot used: Pollitt, Crusat, McArthur, Lopez.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Henderson, Adam, Downing, Kuyt (Shelvey 72), Maxi (Bellamy 72), Suarez (Carroll 87). Subs n ot used: Doni, Coates, Carragher, Kelly.
Star man: Ali Al Habsi