Match report: Shane Long raises the standard for Steve Clarke's West Bromwich achievers against Wigan
Wigan 1 West Bromwich Albion 2
Sunday 11 November 2012
A 90 minutes that would reveal an awful lot about the continuing credentials of both these teams. West Bromwich, gunning for their best start to a top flight season since 1983, are a revitalised outfit, whereas Wigan, having beaten West Ham and Tottenham in their last two, sensed the opportunity to widen the gap between themselves and the bottom three.
Both managers would probably have accepted a point beforehand – keeping them ticking over – but a first away win of the season for Steve Clarke suggests the Baggies are making greater strides than the Latics. "The away performances have been good, but it is nice to finally win," Clarke said. "It isn't a monkey off our back, but it was nice to win. We have a quality squad – they know they are all valuable – and keep making a great contribution every time they're selected."
There was also an intriguing subplot by way of mistreated Chelsea strikers. Franco Di Santo and Romelu Lukaku have both found niches for their respective clubs, presenting talismanic figures, focal points to hit and prove that there is life after the luxurious surroundings of Cobham. Buoyed by his call-up to the Argentina squad to face Saudi Arabia this week, Di Santo has found the arrogance crucial to become a Premier League success, while Lukaku was at times unplayable: Roberto Di Matteo could recall him in January.
When Lukaku's speculative delivery wasn't dealt with by the hosts in the 31st minute, Chris Brunt was afforded time to pick out the unmarked James Morrison, ghosting from deep, to power a header past Ali Al Habsi. It was against the run of play, but the terrific work rate of the Baggies' front two caused Gary Caldwell, in particular, countless problems. Vulnerable to pace, his tentative marshalling of Shane Long frequently surrendered territorial advantage.
Long's persistence brought about the second goal, hunting Caldwell down, forcing him to concede a needless throw-in. From that, Lukaku collected, before flick to find the onrushing Billy Jones, who was being lazily tracked by Maynor Figueroa. His centre deflected off Caldwell to double the lead. Long's consolatory pat on the captain's head said it all – the latter put out of his misery in the second half, hauled off by Roberto Martinez.
"I haven't got enough words to say about Shane – he is brilliant every week," the normally stony-faced Clarke beamed. "Wigan play a system that is slightly different to most teams, so you have to pay attention to that. I was concerned that if we played with a lone striker he would be outnumbered." His tactical reshuffle – playing two up front to combat the amount of space the home back three had to move into – dumbfounded Wigan.
But Di Santo awoke, a man possessed. Hedemanded the ball 25 yards from goal and drew defenders before releasing Jean Beausejour. The wing-back's cross found Arouna Koné to tap in at the back post.
The home support hoped for a rousing second half, but their side failed to get going enough to break the visitors down. "After the results we've had, we didn't cope as well as we should. We had enough chances maybe to draw but it wasn't our day," Martinez reflected.
West Bromwich showed unusual steel and one that could conceivably keep them dining towards the top of the table for longer than predicted. Clarke won't be looking at the history books for omens or confidence – that 1983-84 season they finished 17th – but just gets on with the job in hand. "It sounds boring and I understand you guys want a line, but… we have to go from game to game."
Wigan Athletic (3-4-2-1): Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell (Stam, 65), Figueroa; Boyce, Watson (Gomez, 85), McCarthy, Beausejour; Maloney, Kone; Di Santo (Boselli, 86)
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Myhill; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Morrison (Gera, 68), Yacob, Mulumbu, Brunt; Lukaku (Rosenberg, 87), Long (Odemwingie, 69)
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Man of the match: Shane Long (West Bromwich)
Match rating: 6/10
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