FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
SUNDAY 15TH APRIL, 2007
WIGAN ATHLETIC 3 (2) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 3 (2)
Keane, 35 (pen), 68
Attendance: - 16,506
Referee: - Graham Poll
Wigan (4-4-2):- Filan; Boyce, Jackson (sub Skoko, 72), De Zeeuw (Capt.), Baines; Kilbane, Landzaat, Scharner, McCulloch (sub Taylor, 40); Camara, Heskey (sub Folan, 66)
Subs not used: - Pollitt; Aghahowa
Booked: - Filan, De Zeeuw, Scharner
Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, Rocha, Ifil; Tainio (sub Malbranque, 65), Jenas, Zokora, Lennon (sub Defoe, 75); Berbatov, Keane (Capt.)
Subs not used: - Cerny; C. Lee; Ghaly
One point was not what either side was seeking from this game, at the end of which Wigan might justifiably feel that deserved all three points, but they will also regard the point as more precious than Spurs might consider their return in the quest for Europe. For the non-partisan of course, this will have been a great entertaining game, but for this Spurs fan there was too much evidence of either tired legs, and perhaps tired minds in the Spurs team. Wigan battled harder and that’s why I say they deserved more from the game. At times Spurs just did not seem to want the ball enough to get involved as physically as the likes of Heskey, and any of the midfielders in Wigan’s blue. Even when Lennon was replaced by Defoe, with the scores level, I was disappointed that Lennon traipsed off the pitch as if to waste time, rather than run off to allow Tottenham more time to get the winner that would have lifted them to seventh and not eighth. On this form, Spurs will struggle next week against Arsenal.
I was also retrospectively upset about the absence of Ledley King from the Spurs squad altogether, indicating that his appearance on Thursday night was really an act of desperation. I would have preferred a fit player against Sevilla. Today at least Pascal Chimbonda played in his natural spot at right back, whilst Phil Ifil, making only his third Premiership appearance, had to improvise as left back. Chimbonda of course was baited by what there was of the home crowd, in the warm sunshine at the JJB Stadium. Chimbonda responded well, and put in a decent personal performance, in my view. As a group though, the Spurs defence were all over the place and went one down to a Heskey header after just one minute, as they tried and failed to clear from the 6 yard box at least 5 or 6 times. Heskey’s goal followed a free kick which he had won on the left against Chimbonda. With Heskey’s physical strength and Camara’s speed around the box, Ricardo Rocha struggled again against the British style of football, as he had at Bramall Lane. If only Spurs had harried physically for the ball as consistently as their opponents today!
Spurs strength though is flair, which was displayed in abundance within two minutes of Heskey’s opener. Keane did really well at close quarters on the edge of the Wigan box, and when he slid the ball to his left, Berbatov was always going to score, as he fired low past Filan with a right foot shot just inside the post. Game on!
Keane was often to be found in deep positions, and after 20 minutes, from such a point on the left side, he lifted the ball to Berbatov down the left channel. Berbatov passed back to the advancing Keane, with Jenas on hand. Keane, who should have shot more convincingly, saw his effort blocked in front of goal. Berbatov showed all his ball skills today, but was often frustrated that his team-mates were not finding the positions he thought they should. I was fortunate enough to be in Wigan hospitality today, and my host said that Berbatov was the best player he had seen this season. (And, yes Wigan have hosted all the “big” teams already!)
After 24 minutes, Scharner picked out McCulloch from just outside the box. McCulloch’s shot was blocked for a corner. At the other end, Chimbonda put in a high cross which beat Jenas, but which reached Robbie Keane who tried to keep control with his chest, but unfortunately saw the ball run out of play. Wigan went 2-1 up on the half hour, after another poor bit of defensive work, and even Dawson has to put his hands up to this one, as the ball reached Baines, lurking outside the box on the left. From at least 25 yards, Baines launched a hopeful shot, which I felt took a slight deflection, and beat Robinson to his left in the far corner of the net.
Again Spurs responded within minutes. Lennon was working down the left in this half, and at last made a telling contribution, in a one-two with the advancing Jenas. Jenas was impeded not only as he entered the box, but was also clipped by Filan, who got booked for his trouble. Skipper Keane stepped up to the mark and slotted the penalty confidently, for his third penalty and his fourth goal in the last 6 games.
Lee McCulloch had to be replaced before the break by Ryan Taylor. In added time at the end of the half, Paul Robinson had to make a great diving save from Scharner's header that followed a Taylor cross. Luckily for Spurs, Kilbane’s attempt at a follow-up shot was quite woeful.
After 49 minutes, Heskey teed the ball up for the impressive Landzaat, whose shot could not be held by Robinson, but which he rescued after a parry. One trend familiar to Spurs all season was their ability to get into good attacking positions, but to then become hesitant about their final pass. On one such occasion, after a series of decent passes, Robbie Keane was dispossessed and Taylor sent the ball past Rocha to Camara, racing down the right flank. Camara crossed to Paul Scharner, whose 20 yard shot was only just over the bar. Taylor was again the creator for Scharner after 58 minutes, when the Wigan midfielder was closed down by Robinson at an angle, and fired the ball well over.
Wigan had been putting Spurs under pressure, and it came as no surprise when they regained the lead on the hour, thanks to a Kilbane header from a corner. Kilbane was almost unopposed in the box.
Tainio was replaced by Malbranque, who took over on the left, allowing Lennon the right wing. Lennon rarely saw the ball though. It took Spurs a little longer to draw level for the third time, and I was just complaining about Michael Dawson’s failure to find an easy pass out of defence, when he passed the ball back to Robinson. Robinson’s clearance beat the Wigan defence, and Keane was onto it, saw Filan was off his line, and lobbed him from 30 yards for a terrific goal.(His eighteenth of the season in all competitions)
Defoe had replaced Lennon, and after 78 minutes actually beat the offside flag, and got into a good spot inside the area on the right of goal. A poor ball into the 6 yard box for Berbatov went to Filan. Chimbonda almost got a beautiful revenge upon those who had taunted him all day, when he got on the end of Jenas’s free kick, but saw Filan somehow manage to push the ball over the bar for a corner.
In the closing minutes there was panic in the Spurs defence, as Robinson struggled to reach and keep out another Scharner shot (this one from distance). Robbo crashed into the woodwork in making the save.
It was a precious point for Wigan, who moved up a place to head the group of teams battling relegation. The Latics will relish their remaining home games against West Ham and Middlesbrough, and on this showing, I would fancy them to survive. However, despite the progress of both Chelsea and Manchester United to the FA Cup Final, which more or less guarantees a UEFA place for 7th, and despite Spurs’ game in hand, I fear that Spurs could really blow it. To miss out on Europe would be a real failure, despite the Cup runs, in my opinion.
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