WIGAN 3 WANDERERS 2: The Monday verdict
RATHER like Christmas Day itself a local derby is more about the build-up, while the actual event proves a bit of a disappointment.
Just ask 4,634 Wanderers fans, who had played their part in creating one of the best atmospheres you could wish for, only for the afternoon to end up being a total turkey.
The finger of blame could be pointed to some dithersome refereeing from Kevin Friend in awarding the opening penalty or a questionable offside not spotted for the second but Dougie Freedman will know full well that the real reason his side walked away empty handed from this game was entirely self-made.
For half an hour the Whites just didn’t get started. That gave Wigan the incentive to push on, and Friend and his officials the chance to make decisions of a questionable nature.
Then, just as the hard work to get back into the game appeared to have been done, some downright awful defending at a set piece gifted the Latics a winning goal and Uwe Rosler the perfect start in charge at the DW Stadium.
At 2-2 it was a time for calm heads, even though there were few in the stands.
Having wrestled their way back into the game and sent that superb travelling support into delirium there needed to be a call – from anywhere – to take stock of what was happening.
Wigan were spent and by the admission of their new boss Rosler, looking jaded.
How then did Freedman and his side end up driving back home without anything to show for their endeavours?
So much of the issue was embedded in a dreadful start.
Poor decisions or not, Wanderers were just not at the same level as a Wigan team inspired by Callum McManaman and Nick Powell in attack.
That being said, there was a huge element of luck in the way the Latics got themselves ahead.
Grant Holt’s awful shot skewed out to the right wing where a cross was whipped in by Ben Watson. Matt Mills, in an effort to clear, threw himself at the ball but had dived past it when it bounce back off his hand.
Referee Kevin Friend waved away the Wigan pleas and pointed for a corner.
But over on the touchline, some 40 yards away, linesman Anthony Tankard stood defiant with his flag on his chest and after a short chat with the Rutland official, convinced him to award a spot kick, sending Dougie Freedman into an apoplectic rage on the touchline.
Amidst all the confusion, Watson – a former team-mate of Freedman from his Palace days – wasted no time in slamming the ball past Andy Lonergan to give the home side a lead, waking a largely sedate crowd from its slumber in the process.
There had been a few early warnings that Alex Baptiste was going to have a rough afternoon even before the Latics made the breakthrough – and the Latics showed no mercy in highlighting exactly where the weak point was.
The second goal arrived after Callum McManaman surged past Wanderers’ makeshift full-back for the fourth time in the game. Although the cross was half cleared, Nick Powell’s brilliant improvised volley over his shoulder gave Lonergan no chance Wanderers protested that two players had been offside in the build-up and replays showed they were correct. On balance of play at the start, it was hard to deny Wigan deserved to be ahead.
Such was their struggle to get into the game it took the Whites 28 minutes to muster a shot at goal.
Certainly, had Scott Carson not made a smart save down to his right to stifle Joe Mason’s header, the game would have instantly taken on a very different complexion.
Likewise the goal line clearance from Leon Barnett a few minutes later when Andre Moritz had sent a powerful header in on goal from Chung-Yong Lee’s cross.
Even the linesman’s flag seemed to be conspiring against Wanderers getting back into the game – with one puzzling call from Marc Perry, patrolling the opposite line to Mr Tankard, to prevent Mason heading in on goal.
And just before the break Mills nearly emulated Powell’s acrobatics at the other end, sending Moritz’s cross flying inches wide to end a desperately disappointing half.
As disappointing as the first half had been, there was a small chink of light at the end of the tunnel for the Whites if they could make a decent start to the second half.
Three minutes in, we had an answer. Wanderers piled bodies forward from the off and when Andre Moritz was given space to look up and stand a ball to the back post, Danns led a queue of players looking to capitalise and halve the deficit.
Uwe Rosler sensed danger and made a double substitution, switching to 4-5-1.
Freedman responded in kind by pushing Chung-Yong, Danns and Moritz even further forward.
The next goal, it appeared, would be the crucial one. So when Friend again intervened with a penalty call for Wanderers it was ‘game on again’.
Again, it was not a cut and dry call for the referee, with Emmerson Boyce clearly making contact on Chung-Yong Lee with a raised boot.
Was he entitled to challenge for the ball? Not many of the fans dancing deliriously at his decision cared a jot.
Andre Moritz kept his nerve from the same spot as Watson to achieve a similar result. It was game on.
But at that point, the experience that Freedman has injected into this squad should have kicked in. Things needed to slow down. Wigan were there for the taking but the knockout blow did not have to happen immediately.
And so a few moments later Wanderers panicked in possession and allowed the Latics to win a corner, half cleared to an unmarked McManaman, who struck the ball into the corner of the net to restore his side’s lead.
And so we are left to reflect on another two steps backwards for Wanderers, not fatal ones in their efforts to be “within touching distance” of the play-off pack by New Year, but damaging nonetheless.
Freedman had been hurt by a comprehensive derby defeat at Blackburn in August. This one, you can bet your house on, will have hurt much, much more.