Wigan Athletic boosted their hopes of Premier League survival with a crucial 3-2 win against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
Despite the threat of relegation hanging heavy, Wigan began in the ascendancy but Shane Long gave the hosts the lead on the break with 29 minutes gone before Arouna Kone rose majestically to head the Latics level 10 minutes later.
Having reacted magnificently well to going behind, Wigan conceded straight after the restart with Gareth McAuley left unmarked at a free-kick to head the hosts back into the lead.
Roberto Martinez reacted by making a double change, and one of those substitutes, James McArthur, headed the visitors level with 58 minutes gone before Callum McManaman tapped in with 10 minutes to go to give the Latics a precious three points.
Aston Villa's beating of Sunderland Monday night lifted them five points clear of the relegation zone meaning that if Wigan failed to win at the Hawthorns, the best they could hope for was to still have a chance to stay up on the last day of the season, and Martinez had to re-shuffle at the back with the news that Maynor Figueroa was ruled out for the rest of the season.
However, Martinez was able to welcome the influential figure of Ben Watson back into the starting XI for the trip to the Black Country.
West Brom, whose win at Southampton last time out brought to an end a run of four games without a win and, in doing so, ensured their best-ever Premier League season, were without Chris Brunt and Goran Popov through injury while Marc-Antoine Fortune was suspended but Youssouf Mulumbu returned in midfield.
Despite the gravity of their plight – Wigan likely needed to win three of their last four to stay up – there was little urgency to their early play despite their monopolisation of possession. Full-backs Ronnie Stam and Jean Beausejour offered considerable width but with support players Shaun Maloney and Callum McManaman failing to get up in support of Kone, they struggled to forge chances of note.
Their best opportunity of the opening half an hour came in the shape of a McManaman header – the only time in the period that either he or Maloney got ahead of Kone, but with the ball fractionally ahead of him his header was well wide.
The Baggies front three, in contrast, offered a master-class of inter-changeable attacking play when they opened the scoring as Romelu Lukaku, at the point of their attack, came deep to release Markus Rosenberg, who galloped away from the returning Watson and centred for Long to tap into an empty net.
Credit to Wigan, they are a team of considerable character and their riposte was the culmination of a fine response to going behind.
A slight tactical switch, that saw Maloney come inside and free up further space for Beausejour, allowed the full-back space to whip a delightful ball in for Kone to head back across Ben Foster to level things up with just over five minutes of the half to go.
In a microcosm of their season, Wigan’s good work from the first-half was undone in the opening minutes of the second when McAuley headed West Brom back into the lead with five minutes of the second period gone.
Kone had lost his man in a set-piece situation as the visitors made a sloppy start to the second period, and Martinez reacted to the concession of the goal by introducing McArthur and Roman Golobart and McArthur had an immediate impact when he headed in at the far post from a Maloney cross to level things up.
The equaliser looked like it had ensured an absorbing finish but while both sides remained industrious, there was a distinct lack of quality until Maloney skipped past two men down the left and squared for McManaman to score what would be the winner.
Wigan felt they had a victory stolen from them last week when Tottenham scored from a free-kick that should not have been given but in the build-up to the winning goal Emmerson Boyce was lucky not to give away a penalty for handball, and it is such fine margins that can prove the difference in the battle for survival.
The win moves the Latics to within three points of Newcastle and Norwich with a game in hand while they are two points behind Sunderland having played the same amount of games as the relegation battle looks set to go down to the wire.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Shaun Maloney (Wigan Athletic) - A supreme performance that included two assists. He was bright and intuitive, and just about the difference between the two teams.
WEST BROM: Foster 6, Jones 6, McAuley 7, Olsson 6, Ridgewell 5, Yacob 6, Dorrans 6, Mulumbu 6, Long 6, Rosenberg 6, Lukaku 6. Subs: Morrison 6, Brown 6, Thomas 5.
WIGAN: Joel 6, Boyce 5, Scharner 5, Stam 5, Beausejour 6, McCarthy 6, Watson 5, Gomez 5, Maloney 8, McManaman 7, Kone 7. Subs: McArthur 7, Espinoza 6, Golobart 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Wigan Athletic
- Shaun Maloney
- Premier League
- West Bromwich Albion
- Arouna Kone
- Callum McManaman