Chelsea 4-0 Latics
Saturday 13th January 2007
Twenty-seven years today, Wigan Athletic travelled to Stamford Bridge for an FA Cup third round tie. It was halfway through their second season in the league. Massively the underdogs, Latics put in a spirited display, snatching victory through a single Tommy Gore goal. Yesterday the team made another visit, halfway through their second season in the top flight. Again they were extremely unfancied and that’s where the similarities end.

The game between these two sides at the JJB three weeks ago saw Latics let the visitors get two goals ahead before they started playing. They started off following the same pattern yesterday, gifting the champions three goal, the difference being that they didn’t bother with the bit where they started to play.

With Chelsea fielding a ‘makeshift’ back line supported by a dodgy keeper you’d think that Latics would be looking to test them out, if only a little bit. In the end they couldn’t manage a single shot on target. The worst thing about that is that Chelsea were also clearly struggling for form, if it hadn’t have been for the generosity of Latics’ defending, this could have easily been the one of the worse nil a piece games you’d ever seen.

Chelsea’s first goal made Angel Delight look like steel plate. An unnecessary bit of shirt pulling gave the home team a free kick close to 40 yards out. Lampard dropped a ball in towards the back post, with only three Chelsea players in the 18 yard box it was an easy cross to deal with, with Kirkland in a good position to claim the ball and Hall even better to clear it. Only the most optimistic of us would have been surprised to see Hall ducking to allow the ball to evade the keeper’s grasp.

Whose fault was it? Well the defender had the easier job, after making the mistake of dropping out of the back line, but if Kirkland is stupid enough to trust One Size to make the right decision then he can take the blame.
The second goal would have been equally as comical for the outsider and equally tragic for the Latics. Haestad, who up until that point had made a steady Premier League d├ębut, got all lost on the half way line facing his own goal, a bit of a stumbling run and a woefully underhit back pass later and Arjan Robben, again Chelsea’s best player, was one on one with Kirkland and the outcome was obvious.

The third goal may not have been quite so comical but it was just as avoidable. With Robben on the ball the Latics defence backed themselves into the 18-yard box, allowing the Dutchman to turn on the speed and skip past them all. He ended up with too tight an angle to shoot and no obvious cross on. He took a punt with a low hard cross towards the back post and hey presto, Kirkland’s arm helped the ball into the net. No matter though, there were two Latics defenders behind the keeper, waiting to stick the ball home.

By the time Latics conceded yet another injury time goal, there was a feeling of inevitability about the whole thing. The way things are going you can only hope that doesn’t also apply to the season as a whole. Things are certainly feeling a little desperate at the moment.

It was clear from the start that Jewell’s plan was to match Chelsea’s formation and frustrate them to boredom. With the champions going with 4-3-3 it meant that Latics were all too often left with Heskey stuck up front on his own, except, that is, for the period where it meant that Lee McCulloch was stuck up front on his own. Whilst the formation may have had some success against both Arsenal and Chelsea in recent weeks, the performance here was more akin to the one against Sheffield United.

Last season’s successes was based on energy, commitment and jut a little bit of skill. Whilst the third one is debatable, we are obviously short on the other two. Sadly, they’re the two that are in the hands of the people wearing the shirt. If they can’t get themselves up for a game away to the champions, if they can’t keep their concentration for 90 minutes or if they can’t work hard for the club that is paying them 5 figure sums each week then they need to ask themselves some long hard questions. If they can’t get the right answers then they should really start to think about giving up on the whole thing.

You’d have been excused yesterday for thinking that most of them already had.

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