In an afternoon of high drama, frayed nerves and rising blood pressure, a powerful header by Wigan’s effervescent Columbian striker Hugo Rodallega, secured the first back to back wins in two years and more importantly another season of Premier League football and the forty five plus million pounds that comes with it.
At a windswept Britannia Stadium Roberto Martinez opted to change last week’s starting line up, including big Irishman Connor Sammon as a lone striker, with Rodallega moving onto the flanks and Tom Cleverley dropping onto the bench.
Wigan knew that to win at Stoke would likely mean survival for another season and whether this was playing on their minds, their first half performance was one to forget.
Playing into the teeth of a gale, from virtually the first kick Wigan were under pressure when a back pass from Alcaraz to Al Habsi fell short and the keeper had to be quick off the mark to clear the lines.
Pass after pass from Wigan either found a Stoke player on in the case of the hapless Figueroa the main stand and when Wigan were able to hold onto possession they found the tenacious Stoke midfield quick to close down the key players of N’Zogbia and Watson.
Things appeared to be going from bad to worse when in the tenth minute the ball nestled in the back if the Wigan goal but Walters was clearly offside. If Wigan thought that respite would provide the catalyst for a change in fortune they were mistaken as Stoke belied their long ball image passing the ball with aplomb with wingers Etherington and Pennant giving the Wigan defence a torrid time.
Latics next let off was when a goal bound shot was brilliantly cleared of the line by the ever dependable Boyce.
Latics tried to get going but up front Sammon looked increasingly isolated and Latics first real attacking move ended with Diame who had broken from inside his own half shooting wide from an impossible distance.
Wigan continued to ride their luck, with Al Habsi having to move swiftly to save a shot from Pennant.
Half time came with no change to the relegation positions and a feeling that something needed to be changed if Wigan were to continue their Premier League status.
Whatever was said it seemed to have the desired effect, Wigan started with more purpose with a Diame shot being blocked within the first minute, this was quickly followed by shots from N’Zogbia and Rodallega which although wide of the mark gave impetus to the Wigan team and the magnificent vocal fans behind the goal Latics were now attacking.
At the back Caldwell and Alcaraz seemed to have put their early mistakes behind them and shackled Jones and Walters effectively. Stoke got more and more frustrated and several times appeals for penalties went unheeded by Mr Marriner.
At the other end Latic’s fans must have thought that it wasn’t going to be their day when Mr Marriner waved away a penalty claim when Pennant appeared to manhandle N’Zogbia.
Wigan continued to push forward and were rewarded when Watson escaped his minder and pushed a lovely ball out to the left to Figueroa, many fans were shouting shoot, echoing his wonder goal in last season’s game but Maynor kept his cool and crossed for Rodallega to rise unchallenged to head the ball into the net and to send the Wigan fans into paroxysms of delight.
This goal increased the pressure as Stoke strove for an equaliser but Wigan held firm, even when the fourth official held up a board with five minutes of added time.
When Mr Marriner blew the final whistle, it sparked celebrations between the fourteen hundred travelling fans and players and club staff alike. Indeed the celebrations went on so long it delayed the home team’s lap of honour with Ali Al Habsi in particular seemingly reluctant to leave the pitch acknowledging all theWigan fans waving tinyOman flags in honour of their player of the season.
In the end it was a victory just about deserved and it was testimony that Roberto Martinez’s philosophy eventualyl bore fruit and hopefully will provide the catalyst for exciting times ahead.
Boyce,Alcaraz……….7,G Caldwell…..7, 31 Figueroa….6
Rodallega…….7, McCarthy…….6, Watson………6 , N’Zogbia….6
Man of the Match
The Wigan fans , much maligned and insulted by the national media which indulges in lazy journalism, they stood up loud and proud yesterday and thoroughly deserved their moment of glory with the players. Once again re-enforced why I am proud to be a Wigan Athletic fan
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