Wigan Athletic to beat the drop again?

Picture from BBC

The fans sang “we shall not be moved” at full volume, adamant that they’d not be forced from their position. It was the continually-ridiculed Wigan fans making the noise, though, not the much-fabled Newcastle away support as the DW Stadium (including it’s JJB days) witnessed what must be one of its finest hours.

Going in to the match, the Latics had won five out of their last eight games, a run of form that has seen them rise from the relegation zone. Before March, Roberto Martinez’ side had won just four games, but recent weeks saw wins against Liverpool, Stoke, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Just when Wigan appear to be finally down and out after years of final-day drama, they do it again. Survival now looks likely rather than virtually unfeasible, as it did at the end of January, with only three wins under their belt.
With an outstanding and in-form Newcastle side visiting Greater Manchester, though, it was widely thought that Wigan’s superb run of form was about to be halted. The Toon had won their last six games, conceding just one in that time and with one of the Premier League’s most lethal strikers, Papiss Cisse, scoring in each of those six games.
Newcastle are chasing the Champions League, wary of Chelsea winning this term’s competition preventing them reaching next year’s equivalent. Wigan are fighting against the drop to the Championship. Both sides had something to play for then, which makes it all the more remarkable that the latter beat the former.
And they really did beat them, in a ruthless fashion. Wigan dominated the first half, their play consisting of short, intricate passes in the middle and long, ranging diagonal balls to the flanks, be it to Maynor Figueroa on the left or the right-sided Emmerson Boyce.
The first goal came from great wing-play, on both sides. Figueroa burst forward, with the excellent Shaun Maloney eventually playing the ball out to Boyce. His cross landed perfectly on the head of Victor Moses, who really is starting to show the potential that he has long been touted for.
Moses’ second goal was more controlled than his first, more beautifully crafted. Another clever pass from Maloney – this time a backheel – found Moses who touched it to the ever-improving Jean Beausejour. The winger whipped in a devilish ball which was cut out by Fabio Collocini, only for Moses to steal in and place a shot past goalkeeper Tim Krul.

At this point fans, players and coaches must have been equally as delirious. Where do they go from here? At 2-0 up with 15 minutes gone, do they park the bus? No. They keep playing their game, just as they always do. In the build-up to Moses’ second, the Wigan defense exchanged passes, aware of the Newcastle pressing but never looking to go long. Keep the ball, keep the play, work the ball forward.
Newcastle, on the other hand, were desperate to get back into the game, and it showed. Too eager to get forward at times when the personnel forward did not equate, they gave the ball back to Wigan repeatedly. The Latics may not have great possession in games – 49% average, per game, after this meeting – but when they do have the ball, they use it well – an average pass completion rate of 80% places Wigan higher than Napoli, Borrussia Dortmund and Athletic Bilbao in that particular league.
When Wigan do lose the ball, they are dogged in getting it back. They harass, they are aggressive and are quite happy to foul to break up the play – they make sure no one plays their game against them.
Newcastle attempted to mirror their system for a short period in the first half to try and stop Wigan from playing, but it didn’t work. The 5-4-1 that becomes a 3-4-3 in attack means there are always options, especially on the wings. A great togetherness and work-rate makes for superb energy and fast but measured attacks.
It was down the left-hand side, again, where Wigan attacked for their third; Franco Di Santo playing a magnificent first-time ball to the surging Maloney, who buried it in the bottom corner with ease. It was Di Santo who started and finished the move for the fourth, too – a one-two on the halfway line was clever, the placed shot into the corner from 30 yards was incredible.

Newcastle, of course, had their chances and were by no means dreadful at the DW which, as harsh as it sounds, they’d be expected to be if utterly outplayed by Wigan. Hatem Ben Arfa curled a free-kick over and pulled a shot wide late on, Cisse hit the bar and Ba dragged a shot wide. Battled and weary, Wigan controlled the second half but allowed Newcastle to press and threaten more, but it’s times like that that clubs really value their goalkeeper – a strong performance from Ali Al Habsi, thwarting Cisse in a Gandalf-esque performance. Newcastle rattled the bar and post but, as Liverpool fans know, that’s poor finishing rather than bad luck.
To pick a man of the match here would be difficult, which speaks volumes for the widespread brilliance of this Wigan performance. They finished the game attacking, still playing their game – Collocini preventing Conor Sammon from adding a fifth.
Wigan will keep doing it their way. A trip to Blackburn and a home game against Wolves await, two games that look set to be exhilarating and, on current form, the Latics look the favourites. Wigan are going to do it again. They’re going to survive.

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