BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SUNDAY 11TH JANUARY, 2009
WIGAN ATHLETIC 1 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0)
Referee: - Mr. A. Marriner
Attendance: - 17,500
Wigan (4-4-2):- Kirkland; Melchiot (Capt.), Scharner, Bramble, Figueroa; Valencia, Palacios, Cattermole, Taylor; Heskey, Zaki
Subs not used: - Pollitt; Edman, Kilbane; Brown, Boyce, de Ridder; Camara
Booked: - Valencia, Palacios, Scharner
Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Corluka, Dawson (sub Jenas, 78), Woodgate, Bale; Zokora, King (Capt.), Modric (sub Lennon, 57), O’Hara; Pavlyuchenko (sub Bent, 52), Defoe
Subs not used: - Cesar; Bentley, Huddlestone; Campbell
Booked: - Bale, Zokora, Woodgate
Have Spurs got the fight to survive?
Spurs were left in the bottom three once more after being stunned by the killer blow of Maynor Figueroa’s added time header, sending their loyal support home in a state of severe depression. Assuming a safety level of at least 38 and possibly 40 points, the big question on my mind at the moment is “Can Spurs put together the requisite 6 or 7 wins from their remaining 17 games?” On current form (five games without a win) that target does not look achievable, as we are watching a team that can lose to the bottom team in the league, and just about anybody really.
Wigan deserved their win, achieved with a team radically different from that which succumbed in the FA Cup at White Hart Lane. In a second half when Spurs mustered not one chance of note, they might as well have faced a brick wall across the half-way line, as any attempt to clear the ball led to an immediate return to Spurs territory by the powerful Wigan midfield quartet. Harry Redknapp is as culpable (if not more) than any of his charges, as for some reason he made a radical change to the team formation which had us all mystified when we heard the line-up before the game. Was he going to play 3-5-2, or 5-3-2? Was Corluka or Zokora going to be at right back? The answer turned out to be a diamond in midfield, with Ledley King playing the holding role for the first time in years; Zokora and O’Hara narrow on the flanks, and Luka Modric playing the attacking midfield role behind Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe. Defoe was making his second debut for the club, received with great favour by the fans, but sadly not to maintain his record of scoring on his many debuts.
Harry’s experiment did not work, despite a bright opening couple of minutes from Spurs. It wasn’t long before Ledley was struggling to get the ball from under his feet, and several times had it stolen from then by a harrying Wigan midfielder. Ledley was just one of too many Spurs players uncertain of their role. I would say that most of the team, and in particular Zokora did not adapt to Harry’s new formation. Why did he not start in the same winning style as they had finished the Burnley game on Tuesday? Even when Lennon replaced Luka Modric, he hardly saw the ball, and there was no general improvement in desire amongst the team. Michael Dawson stood out for a couple of great first half tackles, but other members of the team were guilty of lack of effort, including the usually impressive Corluka.
That bright start came after an O’Hara free kick headed by Ledley and saved by Kirkland; followed up by Dawson, and saved again for a corner. From a second corner, Zokora hit a cross into the goalkeeper’s hands. Jermain Defoe was fouled just outside the box after 8 minutes by Titus Bramble, who deserved but got no card for this early bit of cynicism. Modric took a well-worked free kick short across the box, which O’Hara turned just outside the far post with a good effort.
After a mistake by Zokora, Zaki was left with a half-chance, which was well blocked by Dawson for a Wigan corner. Defoe also had a chance after O’Hara’s long ball forward, but Kirkland had it covered. After 15 minutes, Gareth Bale won a corner after receiving a good ball from O’Hara, who then took the corner, again working with Modric before sending in a cross that Dawson headed, but Kirkland held. Dawson came to Spurs’ rescue at the other end after an uncharacteristic slip by Jonathan Woodgate.
Spurs started to concede silly and dangerous free kicks just outside the area, and after a foul by Corluka, Ryan Taylor hit the first of a series of free kicks just over. Bale got a booking for a flying tackle which earnt him the boos of the home crowd (such as it was) for the rest of the game, especially when he had the audacity to be on the receiving end of a Valencia foul that got the Wigan player a second half card, and Bale needing treatment.
Wigan were starting to look dangerous though, and Zaki glanced a header wide from a free kick, before the skilful Palacios tried a scissor kick held by Gomes. Dawson came off worst against Zaki, who hit a dipping cross that Gomes saved at close range from Heskey. Spurs had a break five minutes before the interval, and Jermain Defoe fed the ball to the runner on the right which unfortunately was Zokora, who predictably skewed his effort on goal. Will this man ever score for Spurs?
The second half was a dire and boring affair, with substitutions and bookings being the only incidents of note for the first half-hour. Whilst Spurs were making their first two substitutions, Gomes was already hobbling, but Spurs chose not to replace him, even though he was unable to take goal-kicks. Dawson got crocked after 77 minutes and had to be replaced, at which time Ledley moved back, and Spurs reverted to a more natural style. Spurs’ best move came when O’Hara released Bent, who was fouled by Scharner on the edge of the area. Scharner got a card, but Spurs got nothing from the kick.
From this point on Wigan became dangerous again, and with Gomes less and less mobile, a late goal looked on the cards. Zaki headed a Taylor corner wide, and Heskey did the same, but that man Figueroa headed home from the 6 yard line in added time. The corner may even have followed a move where Woodgate was forced to concede a throw because he could not pass pack to his keeper, as Gomes could not kick the ball.
Wigan have won 6 of their last 7 games, and thoroughly deserve their secure seventh place in the table. I can only repeat the big question – “Have Spurs got 6 or 7 Premier League wins in them?” I have grave doubts.
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