Wigan pulled clear of the bottom three with a well deserved win over Mick McCarthy’s Wolverhampton thanks to first half strikes from Hugo Rodallega and Tom Cleverley.
PREMIER LEAGUE – MOLINEUX – Sunday 26th December 2010
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS Fletcher 87
WIGAN ATHLETIC Rodallega 9 Cleverley 20
Both sides went into this game knowing that defeat would leave them rock bottom of the Premier League table but that didn’t appear to affect Roberto Martinez’s men and the Wigan manager was full of praise for his charges following the game, and deservedly so.
Hugo Rodallega opened the scoring in the 9th minute with his fifth goal of the season and then turned provider with a neat move 10 minutes later to set up Tom Cleverley.
Substitute Steve Fletcher replied for the home side with the clock ticking down but it proved mere consolation as Latics wrapped up their first double of the current campaign.
Wigan went into the game without Hendry Thomas and Maynor Figueroa meaning that for the first time since March 2008 they would begin a Premier League match without a Honduras international in the starting line up – a run of 99 games.
The pair both picked up one match suspensions after collecting their fifth yellow card of the season against Everton at Goodison Park and were replaced in the starting eleven by Ronnie Stam and James McArthur.
Wigan were quick out of the blocks and with a matter of seconds on the clock N’Zogbia went on one of his trademark runs, showing Mick McCarthy’s side just what to expect from him.
Wolves’ keeper Wayne Hennessey became the first to be called into action but was hardly tested when Stam picked out McArthur in space.
However, the former Hamilton midfielder could only direct his header directly at Hennesey who gathered comfortably.
The home side pressed forward and earned a couple of corner kicks for their efforts but hardly troubled their oppenent’s rearguard and in fact it was from Wigan’s first corner of the afternoon that the opening goal arrived.
Ben Watson’s inswinger was only half cleared as far as Cleverley who hooked the ball back into the penalty area to find skipper Gary Caldwell.
The Scot then flicked the ball over to Rodallega and the Columbian reacted superbly, beating off his marker, to blast home from 10 yards out.
Wolves’ response came swiftly but lacked the killer touch to finish it off after they had earned themselves a free kick down on the left wing.
Stephen Hunt whipped the ball over to the assembled pack around the penalty spot but Scotland international Christophe Berra looked as suprised as anyone when the ball eventually fell at his feet six yards out with the goal opening up invitingly.
The defender managed to get a touch on it but not enough as Al Habsi in the Wigan goal got down to his left to gather and clear the danger.
They were left ruing that missed opportunity to level matters when Wigan doubled their lead minutes later after Wolves were caught napping somewhat.
Steve Gohouri took a quick throw in from down the left, just inside the Wolves half, and found Rodallega who turned, leaving his marker Richard Stearman for dead, before slipping the ball perfectly into Cleverley’s path just inside the area.
The on-loan Manchester United midfielder took just one touch to slide the ball under the advancing Hennessey for his third goal in a Wigan shirt.
Stephen Ward will feel that he was a little hard done by 2 minutes later after he went down in the Wigan area under Gohouri’s challenge as they both battled to get hold of a Hunt chip to the back post.
Ward remonstrated furiously with referee Mike Dean but the Wirral based official waved away his protests.
Latics were controlling the game comfortably but have on-loan keeper Al Habsi to thank for keeping their noses in front after he pulled off a superb reaction save after being sent the wrong way with 10 minutes of the opening half remaining.
Wolves earned themselves a free kick just outside the left-hand corner of the area. Nenad Milijas sent the ball over to the middle of the box but a wicked deflection off Wigan’s defensive wall wrong footed Al Habsi
But just as the ball appeared to be crossing his line for the equaliser the big keeper stuck out a leg and somehow managed to clear the ball from the area and back to Milijas but the Serbia international could only blast it well wide of the post and behind for a goal kick.
The second half saw Wolves assert themselves a bit more but Wigan seemed happy to sit deep and deal with anything that was offered up.
Even the introduction of Matt Jarvis and Stephen Fletcher, on as replacements for David Edwards and George Elokbi respectively, didn’t seem to have the desired effect as McCarthy looked to provide his side with a bit more impetus up front.
But it was Fletcher who pulled one back with 3 minutes of normal time remaining to give the Molineux faithful a glimmer of hope.
It was not to be for the home side and the win pulled Wigan away from the drop zone and into 16th spot leaving their hosts firmly rooted to the foot of the table which is not exactly the best place to find yourselves as the season reaches the midway turning point.
Next up for Wigan is a tricky home tie against Arsenal and a repeat of last season’s result would be more than welcome at Dave Whelan Towers.