This proved to be a game of ifs and maybes, for both teams. We knew conditions were going to be difficult (but whatever happens tonight they weren’t too bad), and that Wigan would provide a stern test, even if hopefully they would be feeling the exersions of their Thursday night game. In the first half we played well and created the two moments of note, one of which should have seen us take the lead; but Wigan upped it in the second half and they can point to five or six good chances which weren’t converted, while we had some moments but basically had lost control of the game. The fact that despite the chances neither keeper had to make an outstanding save (there was a decent one from Hamer) probably says it all: neither team can complain about not winning because the opportunities were put wide.
The good news ahead of the start was that Kermorgant was back in the starting line-up, raising hopes that his ankle troubles were behind him. Given the conditions, it was fair to assume that we’d need his prowess in the air – in both boxes. After two successive clean sheets (effectively three, given that Forest scored at the start of that game) the defence picked itself. Stewart and Pritchard provided the width and Stephens and Cousins were paired in central midfield, with Church alongside Kermorgant up front. It was an adventurous set-up, one which put a fair degree of pressure on Stephens and Cousins to both protect the defence and to keep things moving going forward.
In the first half they did the job well. Carson was denied the quality warm welcome back to The Valley he surely would have received as seemingly he picked up a knock in the warm-up, which meant a second-choice keeper in and (I think) no keeper for Wigan on the bench. Call me a wizened old cynic, but for me that cried out for the first couple of crosses/set pieces to be put right under his nose to see what he was made of, with Kermorgant, Morrison et al there to perhaps put in a robust challenge or two. Instead, unfortunately the quality of the balls in from out wide was poor, from left and right, and their guy was able to feel his way into the game. A missed opportunity perhaps.
No matter, we were playing with some confidence and no little ability and were generally on top, knocking the ball around well enough and preventing Wigan from creating much. Stewart seemed reluctant to take on Boyce, but with Wiggins providing good support and with Stephens winning tackles and pulling the strings we just needed to fashion a few decent chances to break the deadlock. There was a setback as Kermorgant, who had been strangely anonymous, departed, to be replaced by Sordell. Obviously that ankle still isn’t right, which is a real worry.
The chance of the half did finally materialise. Good work down the left put in Wiggins and this time, instead of a routine cross, he squared it to Pritchard in space around the edge of the box. It was well set up but he didn’t get over it and the shot went over the bar. He really had to hit the target. After that there was a near miss as a cross from the right to the far post was almost bundled home by someone, but it was cleared. There were a couple of fairly routine shots for Hamer to save, but at the break we were probably ahead on points by one-and-a-half chances to zero.
The second half was to be materially different, as Wigan raised their game and progressively took control. We still created some dangerous moments, but they tended to come from breaks rather than as a result of having control as our midfield was generally penned back. A sign of things to come came early in the half as a near post header from them cannoned back off the underside of the bar. That one was close, but those that followed can only be attributed to poor finishing (in addition to some excellent blocks from us). One curling shot seemed headed for the corner of the net from where we sat but Hamer was able to gather it, but on other occasions you could only say they should have scored.
In a decent game in the conditions – one refereed with a fair degree of understanding, with the card kept in the pocket (until late on Pritchard was guilty of one too many) – we had our moments too. A cross from the left was met by Pritchard but he couldn’t direct it goalwards; a truly storming run by Wilson ended with a dangerous cross (and then a long treck back for him as they broke and exploited the space left behind); and there was my favourite moment of the game (given that we didn’t actually score). Stewart had through the match seemed totally reluctant to try to take on Boyce on the outside, either cutting in or laying it back, but late on the two squared up and Boyce must have had it in his head that he won’t go outside me. He did, and left Boyce for dead, only for his cross to be smothered by a couple of defenders as Sordell couldn’t quite get on the end of it.
However, with the impressive Wood having to follow Kermorgant to the bench as he failed to recover from what looked like a bad fall (Dervite came on) we were looking down to the bare bones: no other forward on the bench, no other central defender available, and despite our good moments you could sense that with 20 minutes to go we would probably be the happier with a draw (which isn’t to say that I wasn’t hoping for one at the death to go in off someone’s backside). Jackson replaced Cousins late on but by then we were content if not happy with the point.
There were enough positives to take from the game, including a third consecutive clean sheet and a fourth game unbeaten. No problems with the effort and commitment, in all areas of the pitch. We should have been ahead at the break but given the chances that Wigan squandered in the second half we take the point and move on (again). Let’s just hope that Kermorgant and Wood aren’t sidelined for long.
Hamer – 8/10. Did everything that he could well, including some decent saves. Can’t blame him for Wigan not hitting the target with their best chances.
Wilson – 7/10. Still managed to make one bad error, ghosting past one guy when covering after a corner but then putting in a terrible pass which meant us losing possession in a dangerous fashion; but has to get an extra point for that storming run.
Wiggins – 8/10. Man-of-the-match today is a tough call, but I’d just about give it to him. Effective going forward and defensively solid. Seems to me that the indifferent early season form is behind him.
Morrison – 7/10. Another candidate, with a resolute performance against decent opponents. Wigan put us under a fair bit of pressure in the second half and he stood firm, but they did have chances.
Wood – 7/10. Another good, effective performance until he had to go off. It can’t be an accident that the defence has tightened up considerably since he came in.
Stewart – 7/10. Not explosive and ultimately wasn’t able to be the match-winner, but was always involved and provided my highlight of the match.
Stephens – 7/10. At half-time I would have had him as the MoTM after an impressive display. But we lost control of the game in the second half and he was far less visible.
Cousins – 7/10. Nothing dramatic, but like Stephens influential in the first half and less effective in the second, before being replaced, as we were pinned back. Have to say I hope we don’t hear more comparisons with Parker as apart from coming through the youth ranks they look different types of player to me.
Pritchard – 7/10. Combative and involved in a number of our best moments in the second half. But still a question mark over his ability to make the right choice when in a good position and he did miss the best chance we had all game.
Church – 7/10. Worked tirelessly, even when the ref seemed to be penalising him for every challenge. Nothing fell for him up front, but it wasn’t for a want of trying.
Kermorgant – Don’t think it’s fair to give a mark. The time he was on the pitch he was strangely out of the game, for what turned out to be an obvious reason. Have we rushed him back too soon again?
Subs – Sordell (7/10; thought he worked well enough against decent opponents and almost got on the end of a cross to convert); Dervite (7/10; was pretty much backs to the wall by the time he came on and I saw nothing wrong); Jackson (7/10; well, why not? Everyone else has a 7 today).