Football: `Pub player' exposes flaws of provincial plutocrats

Wigan Athletic 0 Stoke City 1

A LOCAL newspaper suggested last week - mainly, but perhaps not entirely in jest - that, if there is a potential new Chelsea lurking in the land, it could be Wigan Athletic.

There are similarities. Both play all in blue and, given the way they are bankrolled by wealthy men, are unlikely ever to be in the red - not that Dave Whelan's millions are a match for Roman Abramovich's billions. Wigan are the richest club in their division, just as Chelsea are in theirs, but the fragility of their dream was exposed at the unlikely hands of Stoke on Saturday.

Last season, it was not until the finishing line was in sight that the Latics got the staggers, losing their place in the play-offs on the last day of the regular season after leading much of the way. This time, the uncertainties have set in earlier. After a very ordinary November and December, Wigan have now failed to fire in their last two home games, scratching a draw against Watford and now losing to a side which had not won - or even scored - for six games.

No wonder that Tony Pulis, with his team of free-transfer signings, was elated at putting one over on the provincial plutocrats. The irony for Wigan, though, is that, for all Whelan's financial clout, they are having great difficulty putting together a squad good enough and deep enough to take them up, let alone keep them up.

The problem with the current side is that too many players are sure of their place. Thus the division's leading scorer, Nathan Ellington, could have a series of infuriatingly anonymous performances like this one and still not find himself under serious pressure.

Not that the lack of alternatives is for want of trying. Over the last few weeks, the Wigan manager, Paul Jewell, has enlisted only the Swedish midfielder, Andreas Johansson, who made a first, cameo appearance in this match, but he has also attempted to sign Robbie Blake, Stoke's own Ade Akinbiyi, and Brett Ormerod.

Not only did he fail to get any of them, but the supplementary question is whether any of them - with due deference to Blake's recent elevation with Birmingham - is really a Premiership goalscorer. Those, as Abram- ovich would be able to tell Whelan, really do not come cheap.

Wigan are now five points behind Ipswich and look vulnerable to others coming up behind them. The dream of Premiership football in a rugby league stronghold still burns bright, but the sort of player who gives them problems gives some indication of how far they have to go to make it reality.

Not only did Gifton Noel-Williams find the net on an afternoon when the Latics never truly looked like locating it, but the veteran defender Gerry Taggart proved a sizeable stumbling block. At 34, Taggart looks, from a distance, more like a pub footballer than ever, but his uncomplicated approach proved more than equal to the division's most expensive and prolific strike partnership.

"He can't run and you think he's going to be struggling against two quick strikers like theirs," said Pulis. "We coax him through in training, but he's a warrior. He loves the battle." It was literally a battle at times, with five Stoke players going into Mark Clattenburg's book for a combination of agricultural fouls and time-wasting.

To his credit and by contrast with some of Jose Mourinho's recent complaints, Jewell had no whinges about their tactics, arguing instead that his own side need to sharpen their approach when faced by opposition intent on defending in depth.

Other sides in the division will have noted how fallible Wigan can become when confronted with that mind-set. It is a tendency that will have to be overcome if they are ever to appear in the same league as the other big spenders in blue.

Goal: Noel-Williams (38) 0-1

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Thome, Jackson, Baines (Graham 81); Teale (Johannson 74), Bullard, Mahon, McCulloch; Roberts, Ellington. Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Breckin, Jarrett.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Buxton, Hill, Taggart, Hall; Greenacre, Brammer, Eustace (Henry 47), Clarke; Noel-Williams, Asaba. Substitutes not used: De Goey (gk), Neal, Gudjonsson, Gudmunsson.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).

Booked: Wigan: Thome, Teale. Stoke: Simonsen, Buxton, Taggart, Hall, Asaba.

Man of the match: Taggart.

Attendance: 9,938.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?