The supporters of Aston Villa are surviving on gallows humour and ironic cheers. But for how long? Only three goals conceded this time.
That’s progress of sorts after shipping eight and four in the previous two games. It could have been worse for Villa. A late equaliser by Stoke’s Cameron Jerome against Southampton kept them out of the bottom three. Hooray!
Wisecracks are the flip side of despair and the boos that greeted the final whistle were a reminder that Paul Lambert (below) does not have an endless pot of goodwill with which to play. A goal down after three minutes to an uncontested Ivan Ramis header from a corner, Villa were on the back foot from the outset. An already fragile confidence drained along with the blood from youthful faces.
As Lambert observed, this was an opportunity. Chelsea and Spurs are contesting top-four status and thus defeats can be explained away to a degree. Wigan arrived here occupying a place in the relegation zone. Villa had a spell either side of half-time when they were able to apply some pressure but they were never close enough to goal to hurt Wigan. Two goals in the space of four minutes shortly before the hour from Emmerson Boyce and Aroune Koné ended all debate.
“We had a lot of endeavour but no creativity,” Lambert said. “The last three results have hurt us no doubt. But I have the belief that Aston Villa will be fine. We will see what happens in January. I understand the boos today. The fans have been brilliant, I will never criticise them. Everybody is hurting but we have to stay together. Spurs are a really good side, so are Chelsea but this was an opportunity to climb the table, especially at home.”
Villa skipper Ciaran Clark looked like he was leading out the school team, apart from the balding Stephen Ireland, who might have been a teacher. Lessons were indeed being taught by a well drilled Wigan side, who cherished the ball and moved it between each other at pace. Shaun Maloney was exceptional playing behind Franco Di Santo and Koné.
Christian Benteke had the ball in the back of the net for Villa but Andreas Weimann, with whom he played a wall pass in the box, was marginally offside. Lambert, urging his team on from the technical area, was rewarded with more of the ball as the first-half closed and on 43 minutes Brett Holman missed a golden opportunity, hitting the bar from close-range with Ali Al-Habsi helpless.
Villa started the second half the brighter but were quickly deflated when Boyce played a one-two with Koné to slide ball past Brad Guzan. Four minutes later Kone walked through the Villa defence, waltzed around Guzan and fired home. Lambert, powerless to intervene, looked utterly winded on the bench.
A treble substitution seemed worth the gamble. Ireland was selected ahead of Ashley Westwood to add experience but offered little other than casual plodding and profligacy, and duly made way. Switching to 4-4-2, Villa continued to battle. Even one goal in the context of the 15 shipped in six horrendous days would be something.
Weimann had a chance late on, but his shot was the contribution of a player exhausted in mind and body. The ball fizzed wide, the trigger for the fans to start streaming for the exits. As the Wigan manager Roberto Martinez observed, the win was deserved and Maloney was at the heart of it. “Maloney is one of most gifted players in this league. He is a great technician, has an eye for the pass and fantastic work rate. Tactically he has gone to a different level and his performance today was taken to a whole new level.
“It is an important result. That was the first win since Reading at home in November. The results have been harsh. We started the season brightly, but had difficult moments in November and December. Performances have been consistent but we have not been getting rewards, so I was pleased today.”
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Guzan, Clark, Herd, Lowton, Lichaj (Albrighton, 64), Bannan, Ireland (El Ahmadi, 64), Holman (Bowery, 64), Benteke, Weimann.
Wigan (3-4-1-2): Al-Habsi, Figueroa, Caldwell, Ramis, Boyce, McCarthy, Jones (McArthur, 65), Beausejour (Gomez, 78), Di Santo, Koné, Maloney
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Man of the match: Maloney (Wigan).
Match rating: 7/10