Wigan Athletic (Away)
Premier League

Saturday 19th April 2008


With a point gained against Chelsea with a last minute goal for Wigan, it was more of a case of two points lost for Tottenham when they conceded a second half equaliser to Middlesbrough last weekend.  While not exactly fighting for the points, Wigan have more to play for than Tottenham appear to have if the last three matches are anything to go by.  And I think they are.

Spurs are seeing out the tail end of the season and are looking like they have their towels on the sun-beds already.  Maybe Juande Ramos has something to say about that ... and I wish he would, otherwise Spurs fans will be asking for the last four home games of the season to be dropped off the end of their season tickets next time around.  And as for away season ticket holders, they might be asking for most of their money back.

The away form needs to change and now, if Spurs intend to be competitive next season.  For a number of years, there has been little joy from our travels away from White Hart Lane.  Last season's 3-3 draw there was perhaps a prime example of what the travelling support has had to put up with.  With Wigan and Reading away before the end of this season, Tottenham should be aiming for maximum points if they wish to be taken seriously next campaign.

But under Steve Bruce, Wigan Athletic have picked up their form.  Draws against Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, plus wins over Derby County, Bolton Wanderers, Birmingham and West Ham United have seen them pick up good points, although they did lose to Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth.  They have been in this situation before and so has Bruce, so they have the battling instinct to get out of it, while some of their fellow relegation-haunted clubs have not.

In goal, they have a problem, as talented Chris Kirkland is injury-prone and becoming shell-shocked by all the goals he has let in this season.  Released by Liverpool and a one-time England hopeful, he has gone backwards, mainly because of a string of injuries, but also because of some performances, which have done him no favours.  His positioning is sometimes suspect and while he is a good catcher of crosses, he does often tend to spill shots.  Following up might pay dividends.  On the bench, Mike Pollitt has experience and is a solid enough stand-in, but he is no longer a spring chicken and might be beaten as his reactions are a little slower these days.

In defence, left back Ryan Taylor turned hero against Birmingham, when he scored both goals (one off his shin) and former winger Kevin Kilbane has been utilise don the other flank, which means he might be a weak link, as he does get caught on the turn.  Former Chelsea man Mario Melchiot has been struggling on his return to the Premiership alongside Titus Bramble, who continues to stumble from disaster to disaster (which probably means they will both have great games against Spurs now).  Both lack pace and are sometimes too keen to get too close to opponents, making turning them easier.  Emmerson Boyce is a player that the Latics have big hopes for.  An athletic defender (who can also play in midfield), Boyce tends to rely on his pace a little bit too much sometimes, which means he can get caught too far up-field too.  Unfortunately, popular ex-THFC defender Erik Edman will not be facing us, as he tore his knee ligaments in only his fifth game after singing in January.

The midfield should see the fast improving Antonio Valencia play on the wing and the downright fast Wilson Palacios feature too.  With two speed merchants in the midfield, it needs someone to sit and hold a position in front of the back four and in Denny Landzaat, they have a Dutch international who can fulfil the duties of that job.  Alternatives include former striker Paul Scharner or our former midfielder Michael Brown.  Scharner has a habit of popping up in the box to score from midfield or for set-pieces, so he would be a danger, while Brown hits a mean shot from distance.  As for Landzaat, I can only remember hims coring once in the league and that was a pearler against Arsenal.  Also likely to be in midfield, is the creative grafter Jason Koumas.  Noted for his free-kicks and scoring fine goals, it is the amount of work he does off the ball which others see as an equally useful part of his game.  Other options in midfield include Australian Josip Skoko, who has failed to impress when I have seen him play and David Cotterill, the man with George Best's name, but not his talent.

Wigan's forward line has a few different combinations available, but they have been lacking goals all season and will be looking to see if they can change that before the season's end.  Emile Heskey has always scored goals, although admittedly not enough for a player with his attributes, but he also holds the ball up  and brings people into the game.  He will probably be paired with Marlon King, who was brought in from Watford with his questionable knees, which stopped Fulham signing him up.  A talented finisher, his pace is not what it was in the years when he was at Gillingham, but given the ball in the right position, he can stick it away.  Another similar striker already at the JJB is Marcus Bent.  A forward with a lot of Premier League experience, Bent has suffered in comparison to the one in our side in previous years, Marcus still shows a god ability to hold the ball up and to give defenders a tough time in the air and never a moment to settle on the ball.  Often used off the bench, Antoine Sibierski gives a tall presence from set-pieces and he has a good appreciation of the whereabouts of the goal. Nigerian Julius Aghahowa has been sparsely used, but can score spectacular goals.

The issue for Wigan has been at both ends of the pitch ... much like it has for Tottenham.  You would think after the last few meetings of the teams that there will be goals in this one, but with Wigan's proximity to the drop-zone, they will want to keep things tight at the back and Spurs might not be exerting themselves too much, so I reckon it will be all square ...

PREDICTION : -  Wigan Athletic  1   Tottenham Hotspur   1

For more information on the opponents and their history, including full result history of matches between the two teams, click here.


WIGAN ATHLETIC :  -  Erik Edman (knee)

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR : -  Ledley King (knee); Gareth Bale (foot); Benoit Assou-Ekotto (knee)


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Wigan Athletic   1   Tottenham Hotspur    1      (Half-time score : 1-1)

Premier League
Venue : -  JJB Stadium
Saturday 19th April 2008
Kick Off :  3.00 p.m.
Crowd :   18,673
Referee :  Lee Probert (Gloucestershire)
Weather :  -  Cloudy, windy
Teams : - 
Wigan Athletic :

  1  Kirkland

25  Melchiot (c)
18  Scharner
17  Boyce
  8  Kilbane

16  Valencia      
  2  Ryan Taylor
(10  Koumas 81)
11  M. Brown
  5  Palacios      

23  Marcus Bent (14  Marlon King  83)
  9  Heskey  (  6  Sibierski 76)

Unused subs: 
12  Pollitt
24  Skoko

Tottenham Hotspur :

12  Cerny

24  O'Hara      
20  Dawson
  4  Zokora
28  Hutton

15  Malbranque
  8  Jenas
22  Huddlestone
25  Lennon

  9  Berbatov
10  Keane (c)  (23  Darren Bent 73)

Unused subs: 
31  Forecast
  6  Tainio
11  Gilberto
33  Rocha

Colours : -  (kits courtesy of http://www.colours-of-football.com)
Wigan Athletic

Tottenham Hotspur
Scorers : -  
Wigan Athletic

Heskey 12

Tottenham Hotspur

Berbatov 6

Cards : -  
Wigan Athletic

Valencia (foul) 70 
Palacios (foul) 81


Tottenham Hotspur 

O'Hara (foul) 85


Match Report : -  
Another away game, another lead taken and lost and another 1-1 draw.  No surprises in any of these facts as Spurs reduce the amount of on-pitch time left as the team take a point from their visit to the JJB ground, despite an obvious penalty waved away, but Wigan will feel that they might have had all three in the end.

In what was a game which featured open football and many chances, it was disappointing that Tottenham didn't look too determined to take the ones that they made.  What the current run of form and results says about the future, heaven knows.

The opening minute could have seen Tottenham go 1-0 ahead inside the first twenty-five seconds, had Robbie Keane gone for a firmer finish to Michael Dawson's long ball into the Wigan penalty area than the delicate one he opted for.

Tottenham opened the scoring five minutes later, with a perceptive diagonal pass from Tom Huddlestone opening the way for Aaron Lennon to race away up the right wing.  An improvement on his end product is what is required and his cross picked out Dimitar Berbatov, who stroked the ball into the net from the edge of the six yard box with an effortless volley.  Another early lead away from home, so would Spurs be able to build on this one ?

Initial signs were that they would, as Lennon was again at the heart of a move that put Steed Malbranque in on goal, but Kirkland did well to race out and smother the shot with his body to keep Wigan in touch.  Keane then put a shot horribly wide when well positioned to hit the target too.

Wigan began to move up the other end of the pitch and Marcus Bent hit Cerny with a shot from outside the area, before Robbie Keane ceded possession and the ball found it's way to Emile Heskey near the edge of the penalty area.  He managed to pick a place for his shot that was just out of Cerny's reach, but also just inside the post to notch an equaliser just six minutes after Berbatov's strike.

The early goals perhaps indicated that there would be many more to come, but even though there were chances, it finished 1-1.

Huddlestone was having a better game than the last two at home, with some pin-point passing, but he slammed into Emmerson Boyce's head and was left dazed for a while after.  He was soon finding Aaron with a good ball and also got on the end of the move, when Lennon's cross was cleared, but could only hit his shot off the turf that took a lot of the pace off it.

Radek Cerny showed that he will serve a club well next season, although that club might not  be Tottenham.  Marcus Bent showed the physical presence he brings to Wigan and barged Alan Hutton off the ball, before easing past Jermaine Jenas and shooting from distance at goal, but the Czech keeper was up to the save, making sure the ball didn't shoot off the turf in front of him.  With his opposite number called into action, it was Alan Hutton cutting inside from the right to try and hit a left-footed shot, but he did not look comfortable on that side, so got only a little power behind it.  Kirkland managed to get away without being tested when Berbatov slipped Keane through a square Wigan back four, but the Irishman's cross was too far ahead of Jenas, who had backed up the front two with a good run.

Just after the half hour, Radek fielded another long shot straight at him from Marcus Bent before the turning point of the game for Spurs occurred.  With a Jenas free-kick played into the goalmouth at pace, Berbatov had got goal-side of Melchiot, who managed to manoeuvre his body to take our striker to the floor.  Referee Probert ("Who ?" I hear you say) just rushed away from the area.  A couple of minutes later, Wigan missed a golden opportunity when Valencia's cross was well nodded back into the path of Michael Brown, who missed the opportunity to score against his old side by as much as he missed the ball, which sat there begging to be fired into the goal.

When Michael Brown did make contact with a volley, Dawson was in the way to keep it out and suddenly Jenas' break won a corner at the other end.  From it, Malbranque had his shot blocked and the ball was breaking to Dimitar Berbatov, but Melchiot managed to time his tackle this time to give another corner away.  Jermaine took it and Berbatov won a far post header back to Michael Dawson at the other post.  The defender rose to head at goal, but Ryan Taylor was there to knock the ball off the line.  Despite two more corners in the last minute of the half, Spurs could not force a second goal.

That is becoming the tale of the season and once more, it cost Tottenham the extra points.  Five minutes into the second half, Aaron Lennon almost got it.  As Tom Huddlestone fell, he played a pass to Lennon, who beat two defenders and then cut inside to hit a shot that Kirkland did well to keep out.

Another five minutes and another chance, with Berbatov picking out Keane's run and when Scharner missed the ball, Robbie had just been caught on his heels and could not collect the pass.  Just when Spurs were looking the team most likely to score again, Palacios broke away and played the ball to Marcus Bent.  All the Latics striker had to do was slot it past Cerny, but he tried to take the coating off the ball and hit his shot with great power, but it lacked accuracy and it struck the bar and bounced out.

Once more the play swung to the other end.  Lennon raced away and pulled a good ball back from the dead ball line for the supporting Jamie O'Hara to hit a shot, that got blocked out, then Keane set up Jenas and his left footer went way too high.  In between, Tottenham were grateful to Didier Zokora for a well-timed tackle as Valencia looked like he might try his luck with a shot after coming in off the flank.  His low ball into the near post was read well by Heskey in the 71st minute and it was only a good reflex save by Cerny that kept the ball out and then pounced on it at the second attempt.  

Changes were made for each side, with Darren bent replacing Keane and Sibierski coming on for the home side, with the Frenchman having a chance straight away, but struck his volley too high from just inside the box.  More changes came for Wigan with Koumas coming on in a tactical substitution, while Marcus Bent performed a poor overhead kick which saw him land awkwardly and have to be replaced.

In the closing stages, it was Athletic who looked like they might grab the winner.  Palacios sent an effort off target and Zokora got in the way of Sibierski's shot.

One last chance saw Darren Bent win the ball in the area against Paul Scharner, but the referee saw it as a foul and let Wigan off with the award of a free-kick.

The game will not live too long in the memory.  Loads of Spurs fans made the long trek and what for ?  More of the same that they have witnessed for too long away from home.  There was a lot of effort today and the players did turn in a bit of a second half performance, but there is still the lack of clinical ruthlessness that differentiates the good sides from the excellent ones.

Only three more games to go now.  I am not sure if the players or the fans will be more relieved when it is all over.





Reaction : -


Read Wyart Lane's view on proceedings at the JJB in the Times' Fanzine Fanzone, by clicking here.


Other scores this weekend :
Arsenal 2 Reading 0 Saturday
Blackburn Rovers 1 Manchester United 1 Saturday
Fulham 0 Liverpool 2 Saturday
Middlesbrough 0 Bolton Wanderers 1 Saturday
West Ham United 2 Derby County 1 Saturday
Newcastle United 2 Sunderland 0 Sunday
Manchester City 3 Portsmouth 1 Sunday
Aston Villa 5 Birmingham City 1 Sunday



League Table
  P W D L F A Pts GD
1 Manchester United 35 25 6 4 73 19 81 +54
2 Chelsea 35 23 9 3 60 24 78 +36
3 Arsenal 35 21 11 3 66 29 74 +37
4 Liverpool 35 19 12 4 62 26 69 +36
5 Everton 35 18 7 10 50 29 61 +21
6 Aston Villa 35 16 10 9 67 45 58 +22
7 Portsmouth 35 16 9 10 48 36 57 +12
8 Manchester City 35 15 10 10 42 41 55 +1
9 Blackburn Rovers 35 13 13 9 45 43 52 +2
10 West Ham United 35 14 8 14 37 42 47 -5
11 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 35 10 12 13 64 58 42 +6
12 Newcastle United 35 11 9 15 42 58 42 -16
13 Wigan Athletic 35 9 9 17 31 47 36 -16
14 Middlesbrough 35 8 12 15 31 49 36 -18
15 Sunderland 35 10 6 19 33 54 36 -21
16 Bolton Wanderers 35 8 8 19 32 52 32 -20
17 Reading 35 9 5 21 37 65 32 -28
18 Birmingham City 35 7 10 18 40 57 31 -17
19 Fulham 35 5 12 18 32 58 27 -26
20 Derby County 35 1 8 26 17 76 11 -59


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