Roberto Martinez is normally one of the Premier League's more reasoned voices but his patience was stretched beyond breaking point yesterday as he saw his team condemned to remain in the relegation zone by a brace of offside goals.
The Wigan manager called the performance of the referee's assistant Dave Bryan "disgusting", before intimating that he felt it was easier for officials to give decisions against "little clubs" like Wigan. That Bryan failed to raise his flag after Chelsea's winning goal, an injury-time fluke by Juan Mata from a crowded goalmouth, was perhaps understandable. Even Martinez admitted it was a tight call. However, his failure to spot that Branislav Ivanovic was offside before scoring Chelsea's 62nd-minute first was, said Martinez, "not a difficult decision".
"That goal is clearly offside, one-and-a-half yards offside," he said. "You expect those decisions to be given. We have a feeling of injustice. I felt sorry for the referee [Mike Jones]. He relies upon his linesman. The linesman had worried me before as he got easy calls wrong. I was asked if we need technology. No. We need linesmen who know the rules. I don't want to get into the debate that it is easy to give decisions against "little Wigan", but too many times this season there have been clear calls against us."
Chelsea's interim head coach, Roberto Di Matteo, improbably claimed that he had not seen replays (despite speaking an hour after the final whistle), but admitted: "Wigan were really unlucky today."
And yet Bryan was not the only villain, for Wigan's Gary Caldwell could have won the game – or at least prevented Wigan from losing it. Three minutes into added time, with the scores level, Mohamed Diamé having spectacularly cancelled out Ivanovic's goal, Wigan broke forward. Caldwell charged into attack and Ben Watson's floated a cross towards the centre-half. Perhaps emboldened by his well-taken winner at Anfield a fortnight ago, the Scot did not go for goal but chose instead to try to bring the ball down. The chance was lost and Chelsea broke forward at speed.
As Caldwell sprinted back the man he should have been marking, Fernando Torres, was picked out unmarked at the far post by Didier Drogba. Torres' volley struck the far post and rebounded in off Mata.
A point would have taken Wigan out of the bottom three for the first time since September. Instead Chelsea climbed back above Newcastle United into fifth place, two points behind Arsenal in the fourth-and-final Champions League spot.
With Di Matteo making seven changes as he attempted to manage his squads energy levels, unchanged Wigan often looked the more cohesive side. They had won one and lost 10 of their previous 13 league meetings with Chelsea but a recent run of one defeat in eight matches had bred confidence.
For more than half-an-hour Chelsea were restricted to long-range efforts, with a Gary Cahill drive tipped over by Ali Al Habsi and Drogba rifling a low shot just past the far post. It was not until Chelsea began to move the ball and get Mata on the ball in advanced areas that they began to create chances. Eight minutes before the break Ryan Bertrand and Drogba combined the send in the Spaniard. Al Habsi blocked Mata's shot, Drogba headed the rebound goalwards and Maynor Figueroa cleared off the line. Then in injury-time Malouda played a one-two with Mata and delivered a cross from which Drogba drew a smart save from Al Habsi.
Mata continued to be the game's prime creative force after the break, finding Drogba only for the striker to be denied by the Omani goalkeeper. Aside from Mata Chelsea's most likely man was Ivanovic with his driving runs from right-back and it was a free-kick awarded for a foul on the Serb by Shaun Maloney that led to the breakthrough. Mata's delivery was half-cleared but Cahill returned the ball and Ivanovic stabbed it in. Wigan surrounded the officials but they were unmoved.
Wigan's response was bold, Martinez throwing on forwards. They should have paid for their adventure in the 79th minute but Daniel Sturridge attempted a difficult finish instead of squaring to Torres. Sturridge is developing a reputation for greed and the crowd jeered him then and when Di Matteo withdrew him soon after. Diamé then drifted away from Bertrand and buried a shot past Petr Cech from 20 yards. Wigan had a point, but they sensed three, only to end with none.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Bertrand; Essien (Mikel, 74), Meireles; Sturridge (Kalou, 83), Mata, Malouda (Torres, 59); Drogba.
Wigan Athletic (5-2-3): Al Habsi; Boyce, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa, Beausejour (Watson, 71); McArthur (Diame, 71), McCarthy; Moses, Di Santo (Sammon, 79), Maloney.
Referee Mike Jones.
Man of the match Mata (Chelsea).
Match rating 7/10.
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