Wigan Athletic 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2 match report: Both teams lose out in game they had to win
Tottenham and Wigan rue vital missed points for a Champions' League
place and survival
It was being billed as a must-win game for both sides with their differing ambitions. Unfortunately football does not accommodate such a possibility and so, after Tottenham's late equalising goal, there was briefly an air of anti-climax around a previously vibrant stadium.
Victory for one side or the other would either have carried Wigan out of the relegation places or sprung Tottenham into third position.
As it was, Aston Villa now have an opportunity to move five points ahead of Roberto Martinez's team by beating Sunderland tomorrow night, although they will have played a game more; Spurs remain outsiders of three for the available Champions' League places and have by far the worst goal difference. They have winnable home games against Southampton and Sunderland but will need something from visits to Stoke and, crucially, Chelsea.
Martinez has been here before, most seasons, and consequently knows the importance of staying upbeat even after having victory snatched away so near the end. "No, it doesn't feel like a defeat," he said. "We had the worst start possible and gave away a goal but from that point on we were magnificent. I couldn't be more proud of the performance. We are experienced enough to know we have 12 points to fight for."
That experience does count for something and Martinez was shrewd enough both to nourish a sense of injustice and put some pressure on other rivals. He felt the free-kick which led to Tottenham's scrambled late goal should have been given the other way; and that "there are other teams involved, not just Villa."
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, while far from defeatist, was prepared to accept that his side's fate may be drifting out of their hands, depending on today's results for Arsenal and Chelsea.
"We did ever so well first half and had control of the game," he said. "Their second goal really shook our confidence and the result was on the edge. Now it depends on results of our rivals whether we can be in control of our destiny or not."
They had control of the game for barely sixty seconds, by virtue of a ridiculous goal. It came when Maynor Figueroa, later carried off and likely to miss the FA Cup final, played two back-passes in quick succession to his goalkeeper. Jol Robles should have cleared the first upfield but that is not the Wigan way. He was done no favours by receiving the ball back from Figueroa at such close range and his second hasty clearance hit the on-rushing Gsareth Bale and bounced over the line. Such a goal so early on might have done irreparable psychological damage to a less resilient side.
Martinez's troops merely went to the other end and won a corner which Shaun Maloney, excellent as ever, floated for Emmerson Boyce to head inside an unguarded post.
Tottenham, with Bale back on the right-hand side where he had starred in the comeback victory over Manchester City last weekend, then made the better chances until the interval; Clint Dempsey, Scott Parker (twice) and Jermain Defoe were all unable to take them and immediately afterwards Wigan stole a lead.
James McCarthy set up Callum McManaman, who had scored in the Cup semi-final but never in the League until the moment he accepted the pass and hammered a fine shot past Hugo Lloris. Bale, favourite to be named Player of the Year by his peers this evening, was not at his best, McCarthy doing a fine job on him, and he moved inside when Spurs sent on Aaron Lennon with 20 minutes to play. It was Kyle Walker's spirit of adventure down that same right flank, however, that brought the late blow to Wigan's survival hopes.
He tangled with Jean Beausejour and received the decision that Martinez felt should have gone the other way. Tom Huddlestone drove across a low free-kick and with Bale failing to make a significant connection, the unfortunate Boyce was credited with the last touch. The fact that Tottenham's players hurried back to the halfway line reflected not just the own goal but a feeling that there might yet be more in the game for them and so it almost proved.
In added time, Dempsey chipped just wide of the far post and then Robles redeemed himself by saving from Bale before characteristically defiant defensive blocks kept out rebounds by Huddlestone and Defoe.
The home crowd, who have experienced so many of these escapes during eight years in the Premier League, quickly got over their disappointment to applaud their team off. The music is always carefully chosen at the DW Stadium and bringing a young opera singer on to the pitch for a rendition of "The Impossible Dream" before kick-off had seemed unduly pessimistic. "I'm A Believer", which followed over the tannoy, was more like it and would later be reprised by the home support, continuing to believe in the dream of preserving their status.
Wigan (4-3-3): Robles; Boyce, Scharner, Figueroa (Stam, 35), Beausejour; McArthur, McCarthy, Gomez (Espinoza, 79); McManaman (Di Santo, 63), Kone, Maloney.
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Naughton (Assou-Ekotto, 64); Huddlestone, Parker (Lennon, 73); Bale, Dembélé (Holtby, 41), Dempsey; Defoe.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the match: Maloney (Wigan)
Match rating: 7/10
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