Saturday’s match that sent West Bromwich Albion north to DW Stadium against Wigan Athletic provided an entertaining match of two clubs looking to assert themselves, albeit in different ways. Albion has been riding a strong first month, and wanted to continue to maintain real estate in the top half of the table, while the Latics have been clawing from the bottom ever since their Week One shock loss against visiting Blackpool. Wigan found success this day, thanks to a shrewd halftime replacement.
Both teams started with 4-2-3-1 formation, with West Brom only changing in the waning minutes. For the home side, Charles N’Zogbia opened as a right winger, advancing on attack to support Hugo Rodallega. At the 35th minute, N’Zogbia switched sides to the left, which proved a key element in the 2nd half strategy. Jordi Gomez started at center attacking midfielder, but unable to be involved in the attack, he was moved back for Mohamed Diame and eventually subbed during halftime.
West Brom’s first half relied primarily on striker Peter Odemwingie. Neither wide midfielder (Chris Brunt on the right or Hendry Thomas) provided enough support to Odemwingie to maintain any constant pressure. Midfielder Steven Reid again started at right back due to a suspension to Gonzalo Jara, and provided some additional firepower on set pieces.
The inability of the Baggies to find cohesion between the advanced midfield and attack allowed for Wigan Athletic to carry much of the sustained play. N’Zogbia and Cleverley created momentum into the final third of the pitch, but the Albion defense stood firm and denied any prime scoring opportunities in the area. The best chance came as N’Zogbia fought through the defense but ultimately lost control into the hands of goalkeeper Brad Carson
West Brom played a more direct style throughout the first half, playing many balls through to Odemwingie. In the first 20 minutes, what little attack generated was brought forward onto Wigan’s left back Steven Gohouri. Injury to Wigan captain Gary Campbell significantly weakened the right side of Wigan’s back line. With Ronnie Stam playing as a wingback, Albion decided to attack Campbell’s brother Steven, which added pressure on Antolin Alcaraz to help his partner. This deficiency allowed for one of the better chances for the Baggies, when Odemwingie broke free on the left behind Campbell. Unfortunately there were no midfielders who were there to receive his effort.
As the 2nd half began, Roberto Martinez made his second substitution, bringing on forward Victor Moses in place of Gomez. He did not adjust the formation though, with Moses occupying the right wing and N’Zogbia remaining on the left with Cleverley in the center. This change provided an energy to the match, with Moses making runs forward and spreading the squads which helped the flow. In the 67th minute, Roberto Di Matteo responded by replacing Paul Scharner with attacking midfielder Giles Barnes.
The 70th minute proved the crucial moment though. After West Brom won a free kick 25 yards out, Wigan was able to counter off of that opportunity. N’Zogbia broke free at the center circle, and after some nifty moves to elude Shorey and Brunt, he found Moses breaking past James Morrison into the right side of the area. Moses placed the ball just past Carson on the left from 15 yards to snatch the lead.
The Baggies made two more changes through full time, substituting Simon Cox at the 73rd minute for Morrison, and finally replacing Youssuf Mulumbu with forward Marc-Antoine Fortune in the 89th minute. The final change seemed too late, however, as Fortune never had an impact upon the play in the final few minutes. As West Bromwich stepped up the attack into stoppage time, they could not find a way to get the ball on net, and Wigan ended up walking away with a well-earned 1-0 home victory.
In the end it seems that, as the home manager, Roberto Martinez was more willing to make a positive change on the pitch by bringing on Victor Moses. This change provided the impetus to open up the game, and gave the Latics the finishing touch they needed to grab three points. Roberto Di Matteo’s tactical responses were too conservative, and one wonders what the result may have been had Fortune been brought in immediately after the go-ahead score. All in all, this was a well-played match, with Wigan finishing the more hungry and rewarded club.