They may well be the Premier League’s 21st century equivalent of the old Wimbledon F.C. with their small home gates, miniscule away following and they are a club that no-one would really miss if they weren’t there, but Wigan and their manager know how to get results in this league.
This is something that Southampton manager Nigel Adkins needs to learn, and needs to learn fast if the Saints are to remain at English footballs top table for longer than 10 months.
Roberto Martinez – Wigan’s modest manager who has been headhunted by chairman of several clubs in the past couple of close-seasons – used all of his Premier League managerial experience to lead Wigan to what amounted to a smash-and-grab raid at St. Marys on Saturday.
This was supposed to be Southampton’s triumphant homecoming, a return to top-flight football at St. Marys after a seven year absence, but the match would end in frustration for the large majority of the 29,000 crowd. Martinez got his tactics spot on, as Wigan defended deep and defended well, it was the football equivalent of a boxer staying on the ropes, letting his opponent punch himself into exhaustion, before striking a couple of knockout blows to snatch the spoils.
It was a tactic that worked, as the Saints flew out of the traps from the first whistle, but despite dominating the possession in the opening 25 minutes the breakthrough never came, although things may have been different if Adam Lallana’s long range effort had not been tipped spectacularly onto the bar by El Habsi in the Wigan goal. The Latics managed to weather the storm and they were content to let the Saints have plenty of possession in the middle of the pitch whilst snuffing out any threats on their goal. Half-time came without Kelvin Davies having had little to do in the Southampton goal as Wigan posed little in a way of an attacking threat, as they looked like a team missing the pace and attacking threat of the recently departed Victor Moses.
It took only 6 minutes of the second-half for the visitors to take the lead when a great through ball by Maloney put Di Santo in and his fierce shot beat Kelvin Davies, who found himself beaten at the near post for the second match running. After that opening goal the visitors were content to sit back and hit the Saints on the counter attack.
The Saints attacks became less and less effective as the half wore on and they found themselves trying their luck from long range, hoping desperately for a slice of luck, a deflection, anything to level the scores, centre-back Jos Hooiveld came closest but his looping header only found the crossbar. That slice of luck never came and Wigan sealed the points in the last minute when Kone robbed Jose Fonte on the half-way line and sprinted clear to slot past Kelvin Davies.
So what now for the Saints?
Well with the transfer window being slammed shut this week, a number of new signings are required, especially at the back. Also new signing Jay Rodriguez must be wondering why he came here if he is going to be played out of position in a formation that is clearly making some of the players less than ecstatic. Adkins has promised new signings this week, and he needs to keep to his word, otherwise there are going to be plenty more afternoon’s like this come the end of the season.