In his final season at Wigan, he often looked lethargic, uninterested and a shadow of the player we used to love. Despite this, when the name ‘Hugo Rodallega’ was read out from the Fulham team sheet, I think we all knew what was forthcoming…
When a former player returns to the DW you’re never quite sure what the reception will be like. Although Rodallega did score some memorable goals (Stoke, Burnley and Liverpool spring to mind), he always seemed to be yearning for a move away, and although it wasn’t to his dream suitors Arsenal, the free transfer in the summer did seem rather inevitable, much like his goal on Saturday.
The response to his goal from the Latics fans was generally one of applause, most seemed to remember the player that Hugo was when he was in his Latics prime, although some did resort to booing, they were put in their place by an angry fan near me who bellowed “shut the f*** up you d*** heads!” I’m sure you don’t need to be a genius to guess what that says.
The goal itself was, strangely, rather similar to the goal he scored at the Brittannia in May 2011, would you not agree? A back to front version of course, with a floated ball in from the right stood up for Hugo to head home. The fact that it was Dimitar Berbatov not Maynor Figueroa providing the ammunition could suggest that actually, Hugo has made a forward move in his career.
What made the goal even more typical is the fact that Hugo’s looked rather anonymous for Fulham so far this season. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s appeared to be quite ineffectual, and when Berbatov came in, I thought he’d lose his place as Petric looks like a tidy striker for the Cottagers.
Yet Jol stuck by his man and Hugo delivered. To be fair to him, there wasn’t even a hint of a celebration which you have to applaud him for. Do you think someone like Pascal Chimbonda would have done the same?
Besides the Rodallega side story, the game itself provided little to write home about. A goal, a shot against the bar and Dave Whelan’s book were all that made my first appearance at the DW this season worthwhile.
However, despite what the gloom and doomers might lead you to believe, I don’t think it was all that bad.
Okay, Ben Watson may have had less successful passes than David Beckham did in his GCSEs; Jordi Gomez may have been his normal half-hearted self and Jean Beasejour looked less like beating the full back than Andy Webster looked like winning the 100m at the Olympics last summer. But there were more positives than your average spectator may be willing to broadcast.
Firstly, especially in the opening twenty minutes, I thought Wigan kept the ball very well, which is crucial in the Premier League. We probed well from side to side when we got into the final third but there was where the problem lied. We had no one who had the movement or intelligence to get in behind, to create something from the edge of the box which could hurt Fulham. We got to the edge of the penalty area and just froze, all ideas and momentum had evaporated by that point.
For me, the fact that we moved the ball around too slowly and then took too long to make a decision on the edge of the box meant that Fulham had more than enough time to regroup and set up their two banks of four.
But secondly, I think we miss that injection of flair and pace that Moses gave us.
We’ve recovered from losing our brightest shining star in the past and I’m confident we’ll do it again, but on Saturday, there was nobody capable of fulfilling the role left by Moses. I thought Maloney and Moses complimented each other brilliantly last season through Shaun’s flair and creativity and Moses’ raw speed. Gomez and Maloney are too similar in my eyes and neither are the kind of player that’ll get in behind a defence, but will both look to play others in instead.
I never thought I’d say this but I think we missed the presence of Di Santo up top as well on Saturday. Arouna Kone did well but doesn’t hold the ball up as well as Franco, and the former gives you a better crossing option if the ball is in a position to be whipped in. Far too often Wigan tried to be too intricate in and around the box and Fulham just took the ball away and denied Wigan the space required to let their philosophy work. Perhaps a plan B of getting the ball wide to Beasejour earlier and whipping it in for Di Santo would have ruffled a few feathers.
To solve the above issues I’d replace Gomez with Miyachi for starters, and use Arouna Kone as an impact sub when the game’s more open in the second half.
I know it’s easy to use Jordi as a scapegoat, which I think he’s unfairly been identified as throughout his whole Latics career, but Miyachi is a player with a similar style to Moses who has the ability to take players on and to hurt defences. I don’t think Gomez and Maloney work well together and if you had to pick one, there’s no contest really is there? Although Gomez did come closest for Wigan in the first half, and was very unlucky to see a sweetly struck effort come back off the bar.
As for Kone, I think Di Santo is a more accomplished lone striker who’s better at bringing others into play, and gives another option for the cross into the box. Kone’s a good player but I think he needs a partner up top, and I’m unsure as to whether Martinez is willing to change his system to accommodate two permanent strikers with Maloney floating in the hole.
I don’t think there’s major cause for concern, when Alcaraz returns and tightens up the defence and Wigan get some more cutting edge attacking moves in games, I think we’ll be fine. As long as we don’t slump into the archetypical autumn Latics of recent seasons, I think there’s plenty of potential for a successful season.