A big day for Wigan, and the football team won too – full match report
Monday, 29th Aug 2011 00:26 by Clive Whittingham
QPR kicked off the celebrations in Wigan early by gifting the town’s football team a 2-0 win against a severely weakened side prior to the rugby side’s success in the afternoon.
The people of Wigan hung bunting out on their streets on Saturday morning in anticipation of a day when heroes would be made. Sam and Joel Tomkins, Jeff Lima, Pat Richards and the other players who make up the town’s Rugby League side duly delivered at Wembley, breaking stubborn resistance from the Leeds Rhinos to lift the Challenge Cup for the first time since 2002.
Wigan are a force to be reckoned with once again in this niche sport that afflicts those of us raised in the M62 corridor. They won the Challenge Cup for eight consecutive years through the 1980s and 1990s with a team so good it hardly felt worth bothering with the sport any more such was the obvious outcome each year. It’s taken an Australian coach to return them to the pinnacle of the British game in the last 18 months after a barren time in which they were almost relegated. Now the town has a new set of heroes in cherry and white.
It’s not only his atrocious goal scoring record that meant Franco Di Santo was an unlikely subject of similar worship in this corner of Lancashire on Saturday. It was impossible not to conclude that QPR’s arrival at the DW Stadium was barely even an undercard bout for the local’s fight card. This Premiership match was moved to an early kick off at scandalously late notice so those not going to Wembley could take it in before watching the main event on TV – an idea that drew a crowd of barely 17,000 of which at least 1,500 came from London.
Playing second fiddle will hopefully become a bit of a theme of this match because if QPR are still using anything like this starting eleven after the end of the transfer window on Wednesday then the word ‘doomed’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. A mixture of injury, suspension and plain old fashioned bizarre team selection from the manager created a QPR team resplendent in baby-sick orange that was far, far inferior from the one we won the league below with last season.
That it managed to hit the post twice, the cross-bar once and force three fantastic save from Ali Al Habsi in the Wigan goal says more for the home team’s prospects this season than it does about any potential this combination of QPR players possesses. Wherever you looked in the team before kick off there were flaws to be found, and although Rangers acquitted themselves well and could easily have got a more favourable result I’d say at least 15 of the teams in this league would have embarrassingly buried this starting 11 – and will do if given the chance later this season.
Paddy Kenny started in goal for the R’s as usual but the back four had to be rejigged yet again – four games played, four different back fours selected, predictable results. To be fair to Neil Warnock few managers at Rangers since Don Howe in 1991 have been quite so unlucky with injury in one specific position. With Howe it was centre halves, with Warnock it’s full backs. Clint Hill was banned, Kieron Dyer injured and Bradley Orr also picked up a knock at Rochdale on Tuesday night. That left no other option than to select a back four made up entirely of centre backs with Danny Gabbidon and Matt Connolly the short straw drawers at right and left back while Fitz Hall started in the middle alongside Bruno Perone on his first ever Premiership appearance.
Further forward the same midfield five that played at Everton a week ago got the nod here with Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin sitting deep, Akos Buzsaky playing further forward and Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith playing wide.
Up front Patrick Agyemang started again. Now I’ll try not to be unduly harsh over the coming 2,000 words but Jesus. H. Fucking. Christ. Have we really waited 15 years to get back into the Premiership to play Patrick Agyemang every week? DJ Campbell seems to be quite seriously ill, given that he collapsed before Everton and hasn’t been seen since, but what about Jay Bothroyd? He too has suffered with this virus but started the cup match on Tuesday, played well in the last half hour at Everton and came on and played well here in the second half. He also said himself through his Twitter account that he was fine. Heidar Helguson would seem to be fit given that he’s about to go and play for Iceland. Bothroyd, Helguson, Troy Hewitt, my Gran (the one who can’t walk rather than the one who can’t remember her own name) – all of these people would have been a better bet than Agyemang. What on earth is this sudden obsession with the man? I thought Warnock had his tongue in cheek and was being diplomatic when he described his lumbering performance for an hour at Goodison as “running himself into the ground” and yet here he was again. Is this an attempt to attract a buyer? Because it’s an ill conceived one if it is – nobody is going to come into a shop with anything that awful hanging in the bloody window.
Agh, that’s a shame. I’d left match reporting until last thing on Sunday night for this one in the hope that my anger at going all the way to Wigan to find that useless chump playing a full 90 minutes would have subsided. Clearly it hasn’t worked – I can feel the stomach acid rising again already. And we haven’t got to Fitz Hall’s latest injury yet.
Wigan struggled in the league last year and ultimately survived only by the skin of their teeth on the final day of the campaign. That said they continue to unearth some seriously talented players from all four corners of the globe and QPR were tormented here by one from El Carmelo (Columbia) and another from South Norwood (Croydon). The former, Hugo Rodallega, threatened first with a jinking run across the face of the penalty area that ended with a generous free kick decision from referee Michael Oliver who did little to endear himself to the travelling faithful early on in this game. The resulting free kick from Spaniard Jordi Gomez flew high enough for Paddy Kenny to confidently pay it little attention but still close enough to skim the roof of the net as it disappeared out of play.
Wigan then forced the first corner of the game when Tommy Smith shepherded a ball out for what he believed would be a goal kick even though it was clearly a Wigan ball. That lack of concentration and awareness didn’t cause any undue suffering to Rangers as Paddy Kenny palmed the corner away and set Rangers away on a counter attack but that was then cynically (i.e. cheating) brought to a halt by centre half Gary Caldwell who laid in the six yard box clutching his face forcing Oliver to stop the match as Rangers poured forwards before leaping to his feet and racing back into position fresh as a daisy with no injury whatsoever as soon as the game was stopped. I’ve seen that lousy trick pulled off a few times in various games already this season and in my opinion it should be punished with a booking.
The latest previously unheard of star of the Wigan team is giant central midfielder Mohamed Diame who was a dominant force in this match. In the eighth minute he was allowed to run the best part of 60 yards through the heart of the QPR team with only Adel Taarabt showing any interest in tracking back with him (not a typo). He chose to pass through to the latter of our two chief tormenters on the day Victor Moses, who played for Neil Warnock at Crystal Palace. Now it’s fair to say I haven’t been overly convinced with what I’ve seen from Bruno Perone in pre-season or against Rochdale and that apprehension turned to terror here as Moses received the ball inside the area and ran towards Perone who stood between him and the goal. Perone put two hands behind his back to avoid a handball penalty and then allowed himself to be turned inside and out to the point where he was just rotating round through 360 degrees on the same spot while Moses calmly jinked past him and fired the ball right through the goal mouth and out the other side.
The Brazilian had been utterly humiliated on that occasion and I feared the worst but to be fair he grew into the game thereafter and showed some promise. That particular moment was horrific though – not since Bob Malcolm lost out to Jermaine Johnson of Sheff Wed in a foot race where he only had to cover a third of the ground have I been quite so terrified by one incident with a QPR player.
It was shaping up to be a long afternoon but a minute later QPR gave a welcome indication that this wouldn’t be all one way traffic. Collecting the ball 25 yards from goal Shaun Derry let rip with a fierce strike that looked from out vantage point at the other end of the ground to be screaming into the top corner until Ali Al Habsi flung himself up to his right and executed a very fine save at full stretch to deny him.
Frustration with the match officials grew in the away end as the time ticked into double figures. First Gomez, who QPR fans may remember from his Swansea days as a very fine footballer with an unfortunate tendency to cheat on an almost constant basis, flung himself to the ground under no contact whatsoever from Derry but the QPR player then headed the free kick away. When Wigan delivered the clearance back into the area there was a clear shove on Danny Gabbidon at the back post that Oliver ignored. In fact it took a quarter of an hour for QPR to be awarded a free kick of any sorts which brought a huge cheer from the travelling fans when it finally did come.
The QPR fans should have been cheering a good deal louder a moment later when they missed a golden chance to take the lead. Adel Taarabt, playing a more regimented left sided role than his roving detail of last season, cut in and unloaded a trademark curling shot with his right foot that beat Al Habsi all ends up but agonisingly crashed against the post rather than the back of the net. No matter, the ball rebounded perfectly out into the goal mouth where Patrick Agyemang seemingly only had to role it into the unguarded net to give his side the lead. Unfortunately there are paraplegics with more control of their own feet than Agyemang and typically he made such a hash of the chance that you’d have been forgiven for thinking he’d never played the game before. The result, a skewed shot bobbling miles wide of the target, was something similar to what I’d expect had the same chance in the same circumstances fallen to my girlfriend. Agyemang looked hopefully at the linesman to see if he was offside. He wasn’t.
This was a good moment for Taarabt though who looked a bit fitter than he had at Everton, and didn’t shirk any of the defensive duties which come with his new position in the team which was very pleasing to see.
The game then settled into a reasonably attractive pattern of play. Wigan are an eye catching side to watch and looked threatening whenever they came forward thanks to a front three of Moses, Rodallega and Gomez with the impressive Diame further back. Their main problem, ironically as it would turn out, was Franco Di Santo in attack whose goalscoring record in English football makes John Jensen look prolific and positional sense was akin to that of the plonker playing the lone striker role at the other end of the field. So much of their promising, flowing football fell flat because Di Santo was nowhere to be found when a ball was delivered into the area or just plain in the way when they passed it around on the edge. QPR for their part were working incredibly hard and played some very nice football of their own at times – I was particularly impressed, both with and without the ball, with Danny Gabbidon who was playing an unfamiliar position but looked confident and assured.
It was the midpoint of the half before either team seriously threatened again. A rare QPR free kick awarded by the corner flag gave Adel Taarabt a chance to deliver to the near post where Fitz Hall won a corner. When that was cleared Alejandro Faurlin floated an inviting deep cross from the right flank into the back post area where Perone rose highest and headed over. After that nervy start with Moses, Perone showed some promising signs in the rest of the game – frequently caught out of position but good on the cover and strong in the air in both boxes.
Wigan hit back with another flowing move that should have ended when Matt Connolly won the ball back in the area but instead of clearing the ball he tried a suicidal pass in his own box that was intercepted by Gomez who then forced a save from Paddy Kenny in the top corner. Connolly was quick with the apologies but he must learn that you rarely get away with such mistakes at this new level.
Two moments of action to report just after the half hour; one surprising, the other less so. Firstly Michael Oliver got his yellow card out for the first time in the game, but it wasn’t a QPR player on the receiving end. Adrian Lopez was the man punished for a cynical shirt pull on Adel Taarabt as the Moroccan skipped away him in the Wigan half. Secondly, Fitz Hall got injured again. The stomach acid is rising again I’m afraid but as mummy’s brave soldier battled on for another half hour or so I’ll save my second rant of the report for later.
Hall had treatment for whatever the hell was wrong with him this time and returned to the action but having a centre half pathetically limping around, signalling to the bench when he should have been concentrating on the game, and apparently unable to move up the field with the rest of the defence gave the QPR team a ragged feel and Wigan took full advantage.
Within a minute of play resuming Moses found space in the area and cracked a low shot that Kenny gathered safely but would have struggled with had Rodallega touched it en route – he was prevented from doing so by Perone who seemed to give him a fair old shove past the ball. Rodallega didn’t complain and the referee showed no interest so presumably it was legal enough.
Three minutes later it didn’t matter anymore because Wigan took the lead. There were 14 passes in the build up to the goal to admire, but to allow Di Santo time to not only control the ball on the edge of the box but actually flick it into the air to volley into the top corner was criminal. To make matters worse when Rangers defenders did actually go to him they only succeeded in deflected the shot past Kenny and into the net.
That looked like it might be it until half time – yet again for the third league game running QPR had clearly and obviously tired in the last five minutes of the first half and despite falling behind they looked like the side that wanted half time. Adel Taarabt’s decision to shoot with a free kick in two minutes of stoppage time looked like an action more designed to run the clock down and give everybody else a breather than a genuine attempt to equalise but when his low drive deflected off the wall it suddenly seemed destined for the net until Al Habsi performed an impressive change of direction and got enough of a glove to the ball to turn it onto the same post Taarabt had hit earlier in the half.
Amazingly there was still time for Wigan to storm forward and threaten the QPR goal when Gomez marauded into the area after he’d brought the ball down with what I highly suspect was his forearm on the referee’s blind side. His shot deflected wide and QPR cleared the corner in the final act of the half.
Rangers started the second half on the front foot. Gary Caldwell fouled the tricky Taarabt on the edge of the Wigan area and Buzsaky cracked a free kick straight into Di Santo’s face after he lined up on the end of the wall – I can’t see him volunteering for that job again anytime soon. Then Buzsaky, who did some good things and some truly awful as well, accelerated through the middle of the Wigan team and teed up Taarabt on the edge of the box for an early shot that brought back memories of his second at Cardiff last season but on this occasion dribbled wide of the post.
At the other end a threatening run from Rodallega was brought to shuddering halt in the penalty area by Fitz Hall who, yet again, took his time getting up and needed treatment. Now for the second time the physio came onto the field, spoke to Hall, did very little and then sent him back on to play on while Neil Warnock remained non-plussed on the touchline. This is what does my head in about Hall – the medical staff clearly believe he can play on but as soon as he feels the slightest twinge he’s desperate to go off. Eventually here we had to send on Michael Harriman at right back – a young lad built like a 12 year old with no experience whatsoever who could well have done without a baptism at the hands of Hugo Rodallega. We either needed Hall to man up and get on with it, or get injured before Kaspars Gorkss was sold. Typically, he did neither. I’ll just stick another few documents in the bulging “Fitz Hall is a liability” prosecution file and leave it at that.
He stayed on just long enough to give a simple ball away and then miss a tackle on Moses who dragged a shot across the face of the goal and his situation gave us that ragged look we’d had just before the first goal went in. When Buzsaky gave possession away in a bad area Rodallega had a clear run into the area but was stopped by an impressive block by Gabbidon. Then another dangerous free kick (that we seem to be giving away with a terrifying regularity this season) was sent straight into the wall by Gomez who, moments later, then forced a save from Kenny with a low shot after a jinking run. The change had to be made and Hall limped off on the hour. What a hero.
In the final half hour of the game QPR’s main threat was carried when Taarabt and Buzsaky started to combine. They did so just after the hour and played a tempting ball in front of Agyemang in the area but he fell over his own feet again and the chance was gone. Not only that but Wigan then stormed downfield and doubled their lead when Di Santo was again given too much time and space on the edge of the area, again struck an ambitious shot from range, and again delighted in a deflection that took it into the top corner. He was especially lucky this time, given that he’d actually taken the ball off Moses’ toe in the first place when his team mate would have had a clear run on goal.
Still QPR were persisting with Agyemang, and lacking width, and it would be the best part of another ten minutes before Neil Warnock finally sent on Jay Bothroyd who impressed again, just as he had done at Everton the previous week. Even when he was introduced it was Buzsaky and not Agyemang that went off, and he had to play very wide on the right rather than through the middle. Far be it from me to criticise Neil Warnock after the job he’s done at our club but I thought he got several things badly wrong on Saturday which cost us a chance in a game we could have taken something from and may come to regret not doing so.
Martinez, presumably believing the job was almost done, took off Di Santo and Moses for Connor Sammon and James McCarthur. In 72 previous appearances in English football for Chelsea, Blackburn and Wigan Di Santo had scored twice. It took him little more than an hour to double that tally here.
Rangers looked better when Bothroyd came on, and certainly carried a bit more width. They kept plugging away and an ambitious scissor volley in the style of Paulo Di Canio from Adel Taarabt was blocked by Caldwell on the edge of the box who got out to his man a good deal quicker than the QPR defenders had with Di Santo. Two minutes later the R’s struck wood for the third time when Bruno Perone thumped a powerful header against the crossbar.
The near misses kept coming too – when Caldwell upended Agyemang as he toed the ball through the goalkeeper with a touch that had to be seen to be believed Taarabt stepped up for the free kick and forced another flying save from Al Habsi up in his top corner. The Oman national goalkeeper doesn’t inspire me greatly, and he cost Wigan a goal against Norwich on day one, but on this evidence it’s easy to see why he was the club’s Player of the Year last season and their main transfer target this summer.
Warnock removed Tommy Smith, steady but not threatening enough, for young Bruno Andrade with ten minutes to go and he looked lively. Andrade quickly took his full back to the byline and delivered an excellent, dangerous cross through the area where sadly no QPR attackers had thought to move in for a tap in. That came after Shaun Derry had charged into the area and had the ball flicked off his toe by Al Habsi and out for a corner which referee Michael Oliver did very well to give under heavy appeals for a penalty which it definitely wasn’t.
Andrade didn’t look intimidated by the situation, and Michael Harriman looked positively at home in it. He wasn’t afraid to receive the ball when QPR had possession and when we didn’t he chased Rodallega back and executed a fine ball and all tackle on him on the edge of the area to deny him a sight of goal. Promising.
In three minutes of added time at the end of the match Taarabt fed Bothroyd who opened his body out and then dragged a shot across the face of goal and Kenny saved comfortably from Rodallega as the game wound down.
For me this was a game wasted. Wigan are a long way from the hapless whipping boys the media will have you believe they are but nevertheless they are eminently beatable. QPR had the right idea of how to go about it, using Faurlin and Buzsaky to shut down Watson and deny the wide attacking threats possession, and were inches away from pulling it off despite fielding a team that would struggle to amass ten points if it was selected in every match this season. Had we had a first choice starting eleven out then I think we could easily have won. Had we selected a striker in the lone attacking role rather than a standing joke we wouldn’t have lost.
Clearly Warnock’s hands were somewhat tied by a series of situations regarding injuries, suspensions and paperwork. Indeed he used his post-match press conference to criticise an unnamed pencil pusher behind the scenes at Loftus Road for “not knowing the rules” and failing to get Joey Barton and Luke Young signed in time to play. But he will know, at least I hope he will, that he made some mistakes here that cost us very dearly.
In many ways we could have done with playing Man Utd or Chelsea away on Saturday. We’d have lost, but then we’ll probably lose at those places anyway regardless of the team we put out. Had we put a decent team out here I think we’d have taken points and for that reason it seems like a real wasted opportunity from an early six pointer.
Hopefully we won’t come to rue this one.
Wigan: Al Habsi 8, Boyce 6, Caldwell 6, Lopez 6, Figueroa 6, Diame 8, Watson 7, Moses 7 (McArthur 69, 6), Rodallega 8, Gomez 7 (Stam 85, -), Di Santo 6 (Sammon 69, 6)
Subs Not Used: Kirkland, McCarthy, Thomas, Jones
Booked: Lopez (foul), Caldwell (foul)
Goals: Di Santo 41 (unassisted), 66 (unassisted)
QPR: Kenny 7, Gabbidon 7, Hall 5 (Harriman 61, 7), Perone 6, Connolly 6, Faurlin 6, Derry 6, Taarabt 7, Buzsaky 6 (Bothroyd 72, 7), Smith 6 (Andrade 80, -), Agyemang 4
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Helguson, Ephraim, Hewitt
QPR Star Man – Danny Gabbidon 7 Playing in an unfamiliar position Gabbidon was strong in defence and composed on the ball. He’s looked good in two and a half of the three league games so far and followed a very decent show at Everton last week up with another assured performance here.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland) 6 I thought we were in for a bloody long afternoon in the first 15 minutes when a series of questionable decisions went against us but he grew into the game in the final hour and did reasonably overall. Further marks off for failure to play obvious advantages on several occasions but credit for getting the late Derry penalty appeal right when another referee in his position may hav given a spot kick, a goal kick or a dive when it was corner. Attendance: 17, 225 (1.500 QPR approx) A decent following from West London despite the late kick off change and it was nice to see the team applauded from the pitch regardless of the result. In fact there was more noise and chanting at the final whistle than there had been throughout the game which seemed strange. Wigan are clearly well versed in responses to songs about the state of their town and low attendances because they quickly shot back with “1-0 to the empty seats” and “thanks for the three points, we’ve had a nice time”.
Photo: Action Images
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