It would have been mentioned quietly to Roberto Martinez this week that a defeat against West Ham would equal Wigan's worst start to a Premier League season. They were well aware of dismal results in front of their home fans – without a victory here since May – and must have been conscious that the calibre of side they have welcomed, and handed points to, at the DW Stadium thus far are ones they needed to start beating.
Only a thumping run of form, defeating the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, prevented what had seemed the inevitable last season. So this result was important not only for their points tally, but for the psyche.
Staying in the Premier League is not reliant on beating the big clubs; survival is built on overcoming teams not too dissimilar. Opportunities had already been missed against Stoke City and Fulham, so three points were vital. Pre-match comments from Wigan's Gary Caldwell's that it was a "must-win" fixture were intriguing. It was a bold move capable of having an adverse effect on the team. In fact it got the desired response, indicating they thrive upon pressure.
"It was a must-win game and that's always difficult to cope with. It brings extra expectations and all of a sudden you want to win and not really know how to do it," Martinez said. "Today was the complete opposite. We were very mature and kept the ball very well. The most pleasing aspect was the way we coped with the attacking threat of West Ham. It was a well-deserved three points and this is the start of our season."
The pressure piled on by their captain coerced a fearless Wigan into not allowing the weight of defeats and relegation chatter to engulf them. Attractive to watch with a fluidity that was not indicative of their league position, they bossed proceedings.
From Jean Beausejour's corner, Ivan Ramis evaded Winston Reid and thundered a volley beyond Jussi Jaaskelainen in a phase of play that highlighted the problems of disorganised man-marking against attackers who possess a greater willingness to meet the ball first. Ramis stole a march, leaving two defenders trailing in his wake – curious for a Hammers side usually so well-drilled at set-pieces. At least, unlike zonally, Reid could be held accountable.
West Ham really struggled, swarmed over by the hosts, and were reduced to hitting Andy Carroll quickly – a ploy Sam Allardyce would not have envisaged when setting up his impressive-looking attacking four. The overriding problem in failing to stamp any sort of authority on the game stemmed from a lack of communication and gumption at the back.
Arouna Kone's loitering role confused George McCartney, who instead of passing him on to his central defenders, followed the striker from full-back. That in turn left Matt Jarvis constantly tracking wing-back Emmerson Boyce, who joyously rampaged down the touchline. It meant that when the ball broke, Jarvis was nowhere to be seen, his own threat nullified, and saw Carroll cut a lonely figure.
Allardyce eventually cottoned on, instructing Jarvis to stay further forward in an attempt to call Boyce's bluff. It worked to an extent, and when they began to play, the visitors briefly looked the real deal. The winger and James Tomkins both went close before James Collins lamely found Ali Al Habsi from close range. But Boyce was unnerved – continuing to bomb forward and, moments after the restart, Wigan sealed the points. Tomkins was out-run by Franco Di Santo, who found James McArthur via Beasejour and Shaun Maloney, and the Scotland midfielder fired in an unstoppable second.
West Ham are trying to play differently, to change perceptions. They were set up to operate in a manner intent on passing and moving, but ended up serving up the grizzly dish supporters of Championship teams endured throughout last season. Carroll's inclusion makes it too easy for them to go from back to front all too quickly.
Allardyce was furious afterwards. "Our technique on the ball was ridiculously poor today. It has been very good in possession which has kept the pressure off us away from home. It was a real blow and a real shock, because I didn't expect that type of performance," he said.
As poor as West Ham were for the majority of proceedings, this was more about the effectiveness of Martinez's exciting brand of football which he loyally sticks with through thin and thinner. They defended well and attacked from all angles, presenting themselves as a team enjoying playing together, composing victory immaculately. Tomkins rattled the crossbar late on, and then scored with a header, but the Irons did not deserve to escape from Lancashire with anything other than defeat.
Wigan's confidence in their own ability despite the previously negative results must be credited to the manager, and the hope is that this acts as a kick-start.
Wigan (3-4-1-2): Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Beausejour; Maloney; Di Santo (Watson, 78), Kone
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen; Tomkins, Collins, Reid, McCartney; Diame (O'Neill, 73), Noble (Cole, 64); Jarvis, Nolan, Benayoun (Maiga, h-t); Carroll
Referee: Jon Moss.
Man of the match: McArthur (Wigan)
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content