Spot-on Watson rescues point for 10-man Wigan
Stoke City 2 Wigan Athletic 2: Substitute holds nerve to score penalty with first touch and frustrate Stoke
Sunday 01 January 2012
Stoke is where Wigan survived on the final day of last season and the resilience they displayed here suggests that of the three Lancashire sides that finished 2011 in the relegation zone, they are still the likeliest to scramble free.
Survival requires a glacial calm under pressure and when, with his side reduced to 10 men, a goal down and with three minutes remaining, Wigan were awarded a penalty, Roberto Martinez brought on Ben Watson and ordered the midfielder to take it with his first kick of the game. He scored.
There have long been arguments for bringing on specialists to take or save penalties. At the climax of the 1990 World Cup semi-final, some of England's players urged Bobby Robson in vain to bring on Dave Beasant for the shoot-out with West Germany because they had never seen Peter Shilton save a penalty. However, Martinez's decision was all the braver because Watson had missed his last two.
"No it is not bravery, it is about doing the right thing," said the Wigan manager. "Taking a penalty is a specialist job and we have two in Jordi Gomez and Ben. I had already subbed Gomez so there was no choice. If you are on the bench, you are fresh enough to have that composure to take a kick; you are not out of breath and you are not tired mentally. It would have been unfair to have asked anyone else."
This was a match that revolved around spot-kicks and substitutions. Until Tony Pulis introduced Cameron Jerome, Wigan had demonstrated the confidence that had seen them take 10 points from their last eight games, which, when you have taken five from your first 11, counts as a lot.
Stoke had been lacklustre in their goalless draw with Aston Villa on Boxing Day and their early bombardment of Ali Al Habsi's goal had a programmed feel to it.
In the shape of Ronnie Stam at right-back, Mohamed Diamé in the centre of midfield and Victor Moses, Wigan possessed the more inventive players and the goal that earned them the breakthrough was beautifully worked. Stam fed Hugo Rodallega, who drove down the right flank to deliver a low, hard cross that Moses met before the inrushing Andy Wilkinson.
However, moments after Jerome was introduced, Stoke were level. Shortly before Wigan conceded their penalty, Robert Huth had met a long throw from Rory Delap that struck the inside of the post, so the equaliser had been coming, although few suspected how it would arrive. As Stoke bludgeoned their way once more into the Wigan area, Jerome's header from barely six yards was well saved – unfortunately for Martinez by his centre-half, Gary Caldwell, rather than his goalkeeper. The ball finished up against the crossbar and, amid a ferment of chaos and confrontation between players and referee, Caldwell was dismissed. Jonathan Walters's penalty was emphatically converted.
"If you want to be a referee, don't come to the Britannia Stadium because it is the hardest place to referee," said Martinez with a smile. "But both decisions were correct."
Stoke sensed blood. Blackburn's extraordinary result at Old Trafford had driven up the pressure on Wigan and now, a man down, they looked suddenly exhausted. When Walters neatly played Jerome through that appeared to be that. But two minutes later, Ryan Shotton stupidly and carelessly tugged Rodallega's shirt, the striker went down theatrically and Martinez made his decision.
Both these clubs will look back on 2011 with fondness. Stoke because they reached the first FA Cup final in their history and Wigan because they survived once more against the odds in a way that Southampton and Coventry in previous footballing generations were adept at. For Stoke, the new year brings the rare glamour of a European tie with Valencia but, for Wigan, there's only more escapology.
Stoke (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson (Shotton, 49), Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Pennant, Delap, Palacios, Etherington (Jerome, 74); Walters (Jones, 90), Crouch.
Wigan (4-1-4-1): Al Habsi; Stam, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa; Jones (Watson 86); Gomez (Gohouri, 78), Diamé, McCarthy, Moses; Rodallega.
Referee Michael Oliver.
Man of the match Diamé (Wigan).
Match rating 7/10.
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