Wigan Athletic made the trip to Belgium to make history in their first ever competitive European game. Manager Owen Coyle no doubt smarting from Saturday’s sub par performance and with one eye on the glut of fixtures over the next few weeks opted to ring the changes, bringing in seven players including on loan Ryan Shotton making his debut and Nick Powell his first start for a Wigan team in the lone forward role.
Wigan were roared on by a travelling support of over 2,000 fans, faced an extremely talented Zulte Waregem featuring Thorgum Hazard brother of Chelsea’s Eden.
Wigan started brightly in a rain soaked Bruges stadium and from an early corner following mistake by the keeper the ball wasn’t cleared and fell to McArthur at the edge of the area. His powerful shot flew through a crowded area and grazed the post, going for a goal kick.
Both sides seemed to struggle with the slippery conditions and this uncertainty allowed Conte to break but his shot was comfortably saved by Carson.
Wigan came back again and after good work on the left by Crainey and McCann the ball fell at the edge of the area to Gomez who fired wide.
The game settled into a midfield battle and McCann was booked for sliding into a tackle, the referee choosing to ignore the conditions as a mitigating factor. A mistake in midfield by Conte allowed Powell to have a shot but it was high, wide and not very handsome.
Wigan increased the possession and neat work by Gomez and Powell saw the ball fall to McCann but his powerful shot deflected away for another corner.
Waregem increased the tempo and from a corner McClean’s header spooned off his head onto the Wigan cross bar and Wigan could consider themselves fortunate not to be behind.
The weather played its part in the next error when McCann slipped in midfield losing possession, the ball was put through to Conte and his powerful bobbling shot was subject of a fine reflex save by Carson, Wigan scrambling the ball clear.
Half time brought to a close an entertaining half, short on clear cut chances but high on endeavour in atrocious conditions.
The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Wigan tried to defend deep . A clever chip from De Fauw saw Habibou beat the offside trap and his header beat the lunging punch of Carson but fortunately for Wigan the ball went narrowly wide.
Back came Wigan again a struggle in the penalty area saw Shotton win the battle but his shot skimmed past the post.
Powell who had up until this point had had a quiet game broke quickly from midfield but his cross couldn’t be met by Gomez whose failure to close down the defender allowed Waregem the time to clear.
Waregam broke again and Skulason’s fine cross was narrowly missed by a lunging Habibou. Another minute and another chance, Wigan continued to sit back and defend deeply and this time D’Haene shot narrowly wide as Wigan lived dangerously.
Powell came more into the game and won a corner. Watson’s cross found Perch and his shot forced Bossut into a fine save.
Wigan continued operating a rearguard action and were often resorted to hoofing the ball up field for Fortune to chase. One such ball managed to find its way out wide to Powell who beat three men on a jinking run into the area but his lack of confidence saw him take one touch too many and N’Diye managed to take the ball away as he shaped to shoot.
Waregem looked dangerous with every corner and McCann was outjumped by Skulason but his header went narrowly wide.
Full time brought to an end a game which Wigan survived intense pressure in the second half and whilst they created very few clear cut chances they will be delighted with a clean sheet against talented oppostion.
Wigan Line Up and player ratings;
Carson……7 made a couple of fine saves
Boyce (c)……6 worked hard
Perch……7 worked hard against talented opposition
Shotton…….6.5 a good debut
Crainey……5.5 was given a torrid time by the Belgians
McManaman…… 5 very little opportunity to shine, withdrawn
McArthur……6, worked hard
Gomez……. 5 failed to impose himself on the game, withdrawn
McCann…..5, tried hard against tough opposition in Hazard.
McClean……6, never stopped trying.
Powell……..5, looks short on confidence, withdrawn
Watson for Gomez……6, provided defensive acumen
Fortune for McManaman…..5, too isolated up front.
Dicko for Powell……5, few opportunities
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