Watson rewards Wigan guile with 'crucial goal'

Stoke City 2 Wigan Athletic 2

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The Independent Football

At the end of a season when the line between relegation and survival is drawn, every point and every goal appears critical. However, the decision by Wigan's manager, Roberto Martinez, to send on Ben Watson specifically to take an 87th-minute spot-kick appeared decisive at the time.

In American football it is routine, in our code it is almost unknown, although Zico was asked to take a penalty with his second touch of the ball, having won it with his first in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final against France. He missed. Watson scored.

The midfielder had been told by Martinez he would be coming on when the score was 1-1, but when Cameron Jerome, a fine substitution by Tony Pulis that was overshadowed by the one made by Martinez, put Stoke ahead, he was ordered on immediately. Then Hugo Rodallega's shirt was pulled.

Martinez's argument was that his only other penalty specialist, Jordi Gomez, had already been substituted. "I was really nervous," the 26-year-old said. "My heart was going at 100 miles an hour. I had missed my previous two, against Swansea and Wolves, and I could feel the fans were also nervous behind the goal.

"I just stuck to my guns, picked my spot and it went in. It could prove to be a crucial goal; every point is massive when you are in our position. We don't want to be doing what we did last season when we came to Stoke for the last match having to win."

The final matches of Wigan's campaign are away to Blackburn and at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, which already has a critical feel to it. Their total of 15 points is fewer than they achieved at the halfway mark of either of the Spaniard's first two seasons at the helm.

Martinez believes that his club began the turn away from the abyss that eight successive defeats had opened up beneath their feet in the 3-3 draw against Blackburn, since when they have lost only to Arsenal and Manchester United, albeit by a collective scoreline of 9-0.

Nevertheless, they are in recovery, although the answer to whether it is coming too late will have to wait.

Scorers: Stoke City Walters pen 77, Jerome 84. Wigan Athletic Moses 45, Watson pen 87.

Substitutes: Stoke Shotton 5 (Wilkinson, 49), Jerome (Etherington, 74), Jones (Walters, 90). Wigan Gohouri (Gomez, 86), Watson (Jones, 86). Booked: Stoke Delap, Shotton. Wigan Moses, Stam, Rodallega. Sent-off: Wigan Caldwell (76).

Man of the match Diame. Match rating 7/10. Poss: Stoke 51% Wigan 49%. Attempts on target: Stoke 3 Wigan 6. Referee M Oliver (Northumberland). Att 26,595.