An entertaining goodbye

Posted by Tony Brown

Wigan Athletic said goodbye to the Premier League through an entertaining 2-2 draw with Aston Villa. Latics' display had the hallmarks of what we have seen so often this season – bouts of champagne football interspersed with mediocre defending.

The £24 miliion Darren Bent had opened the scoring in the 5th minute, breezing past Paul Scharner before shooting in off the post. Wigan equalized in the 20th minute through a superb header from Emmerson Boyce from an excellent cross by Roger Espinoza. They went in leading at half time following an unlucky own goal by Nathan Baker.

Wigan had recalled Ali Al Habsi in goal. Roman Golobart replaced Antolin Alcaraz, with Ben Watson starting in place of Callum McManaman. The big Paraguayan was missed in a central defence that did not convince. Tactically Wigan played a mélange of what we have seen in recent weeks, with Watson flitting between midfield and centre of defence and James McArthur playing on the right of midfield.

Aston Villa were unrecognisable from the shaky team we had seen at Villa Park in December when Latics had beaten them 3-0. This team played an attacking game with three forwards and showed no mean level of skill in the process. It did not come as a complete surprise when Ron Vlaar’s hooked shot somehow found its way past Ali Al Habsi after 60 minutes.

Driven on by Shaun Maloney’s creativity, Wigan came close on several occasions in the second half, including a superb volley from James McArthur that hit the crossbar in the 79th minute. But in the end a draw was a fair result.

The Good

Wigan played some excellent football and were unlucky not to have scored more goals. One hopes that they will continue to play this brand of football against rugged Championship teams next year.

It was heartening to see Ali Al Habsi much more dominant in his area. The Omani has had a difficult season and it is going to take him a while to regain his confidence fully. This was a step in the right direction.

At last Fraser Fyvie was given his Premier League debut, coming on after 69 minutes for Ben Watson. The 20 year old Scot could prove to be a key player next year. The exciting young wing back Eduard Campabadal also made a debut, substituting for Emmerson Boyce in the closing minutes.

It was surprising to see Angelo Henriquez brought on as a subsititute in preference to the more senior Franco Di Santo. One wonders if Wigan are looking at a permanent deal for the young Chilean, currently on loan from Manchester United.

Jordan Mustoe and Daniel Redmond were also on a youthful-looking bench.

The Bad

Once again injuries forced Martinez into fielding a new central defensive partnership – this time it was Paul Scharner and Roman Golobart. Not surprisingly there was a lack of cohesion between the two.

The centre of defence has been a real problem for Latics this season. The long term hip problem of Gary Caldwell has had a major impact. Brave as he is – he recently stated that he had not been able to train properly for 6 months - Caldwell still started in 25 games, but was a shadow of that dominant captain who would marshall the defence. The loss of the excellent Ivan Ramis in January, on top of the long term injury at the time of Antolin Alcaraz, was another blow to Latics’ defensive cohesion.

Injuries apart, it is the centre of defence that has been the weak point of all Roberto Martinez’ teams at Wigan. Ideally there would be an established duo – or trio depending on tactical preferences – in central defence that would develop a mutual understanding through playing together on a regular basis. There is a need for both height and pace in the middle. Is there also a need for a defensive coach?

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 6 – returning back to form.

Emmerson Boyce: 8 – excellent throughout. Took his goal superbly and almost scored another in the second half.

Roman Golobart: 6 – a work in progress.

Paul Scharner: 6 – had some good moments, but some bad ones too.

Roger Espinoza: 7 – starting to look comfortable in the Beausejour role. As always, full of energy and put in some great crosses.

Ben Watson: 7 – growing in that midfield anchor/central defence shielding role. Substituted after 69 minutes.

James McArthur: 7 – worked hard. Never ceases to surprise with the quality of his efforts on goal. He has scored some crackers for Latics in the past and his sublime volley 10 minutes from the end could have won the game for his team.

James McCarthy: 7.5 – played a little further forward. He is a class act and will almost certainly be snapped up by a big club this summer. A transfer fee in excess of £15 million would not be unreasonable for a player with all round ability and a good temperament.

Shaun Maloney: 8 – a typical performance, full of running and guile. Deservedly voted ‘Player of the Season’.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – ineffective playing wide on the right. Substituted after 69 minutes.

Arouna Kone: 6 – finishing not sharp enough.

Substitutes

Fraser Fyvie: - came on for Watson after 69 minutes. Has the ability to become a top player.

Angelo Henriquez: on for Gomez after 69 minutes for a rare appearance.

Eduard Campabadal – made his debut after 88 minutes. Could make a major impact next year.

ESPN Conversations