Wigan Athletic were denied a memorable victory against a strong Rubin Kazan side in the dying seconds of the match. Marc-Antoine Fortune’s close range shot had ‘goal’ written all over it but Russian goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov made an outstanding save to keep the scores level.
Rubin would have counted themselves unlucky had Fortune’s shot gone in as they were the more accomplished side, with players of superior technical ability. It was through sheer determination that Latics managed to claw their way back into the game and almost win it at the end.
In the second half Latics started their habitual aerial bombardment, but Rubin’s big Spanish defenders – 6’2” Ivan Marcano and the 6’4″ Cesar Navas, who was brought on after 67 minutes – were able to repel most of the long balls.
It was a physical match, but well officiated by the German referee Florian Meyer. Rubin committed 21 fouls, against 15 committed by Wigan. Each team received 3 yellow cards. The physicality of the game is revealed in the stats. It goes against the notion that the European games are less physical than those in the Football League Championship.
Scott Carson only had a couple of saves to make. Emmerson Boyce once again played with great heart. His pace is not what it was and he was troubled by Wakaso in the second half. Stephen Crainey made a cautious, steady return to first team action. He looked solid enough in defence and is clearly working on improving his distribution.
Leon Barnett and Ryan Shotton formed a physically intimidating partnership in the centre of defence. However, at times they looked disorientated with the movement of opposition forwards and midfield players. Both received yellow cards, Shotton maybe ending up lucky to stay on the field after a scything tackle on the edge of the area in the early part of the second half.
Chris McCann had an excellent performance, being employed in front of the back four, providing good defensive cover and putting in some nice passes with his educated left foot. Ben Watson was involved in Wigan’s two best moves of the first half and worked very hard to hold Rubin back. However, his set piece deliveries were not up to his usual high standard.
Jordi Gomez had a night to forget. Nick Powell was a threat throughout and took his goal really well. He is a quality player who needs the ball to his feet, rather than in the air. At times, Grant Holt looked clumsy and short of pace. Not long back from injury he probably needs more time to get in top shape. Jean Beausejour was starved of possession and could not get in the game.
Of the substitutes, Marc-Antoine Fortune looked more mobile than Holt, but was too often outnumbered by opposition defenders. A pity his last gasp effort did not go in. Callum McManaman: showed a little more than in recent games when coming on for the last 15 minutes. Let’s hope he can rekindle last season’s form over the coming weeks. James McClean worked hard and put in a good defensive stint.
In the end it was a point well won by Latics, against the team that will surely win the group, with two home games coming up.
Latics could not be faulted for effort. The midfield holding players – Watson and McCann – put in a hard shift, helping to protect their defence, building up attacks.
This Latics side does not give up easily and they still stand a good chance of qualifying for the next round.
Once more we had a tactical change from Coyle. This time the wide players were more withdrawn towards midfield and Powell was paired with Holt as a central striker, albeit playing a little deeper.
Powell is best employed running at the defence from midfield, in the kind of role Shaun Maloney used to play. He is not suited to the long ball game that Latics played too often in the second half. Given Maloney’s absence, possibly for the rest of the season, Powell is going to be a key player at such a young age.
Once again we saw Coyle put Gomez in a midfield attacking role on the right. The Spaniard had a nightmare game, slowing down attacks and passing the ball backwards far too often. His lack of defensive cover on the right hand side, put Emmerson Boyce under pressure, especially in the second half when Rubin brought on the speedy Ghanaian Mubarak Wakaso on the left wing.
Playing Gomez in that position is not doing him any favours. He can play a useful role in the centre of midfield, either in a holding role or playing in the hole behind the central striker.
Once again Latics adopted a long ball game in the latter part of the match. One hopes that Coyle can develop another ‘Plan B’ as the season continues. At times it looked like we were watching a Bolton game.
The Group D Standings
Maribor’s shock 3-1 victory against Zulte Waregem in Belgium has opened up the group and Latics will need a couple of good results in the games in Russia and Slovenia and at home to Zulte Waregem to continue to hold second place.
With three games played Rubin lead with 7 points, followed by Wigan with 5, Maribor with 3 and Zulte with 1 point.
The next match
Away to Rubin Kazan – is a tough proposition. If Latics were to lose, and Maribor were to win their home game with Zulte, the Slovenians would leapfrog into second place.
The Maribor away game could well be crucial and Latics will hope for a win in the home game against Zulte Waregem before traveling to their last match in Slovenia.
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