By Callum McCarthy
Coming into this game, Wigan Athletic were the joke of the Premiership. Two consecutive thrashings had given them the dubious honour of having the worst start by a top division club in England for 104 years, and to make matters worse, they had to travel to White Hart Lane, the site of last season’s 9-1 drubbing at the hands of today’s opponents, Tottenham Hotspur.
Despite such a damning situation, 200 brave souls made the trip from Lancashire to London, hoping to witness some form of damage limitation. Those same 200 brave souls would roar their way back to Wigan, clutching to the most unlikely of wins thanks to Hugo Rodallega’s (photo) 80th minute cross-shot.
This was no stroke of luck either, as Wigan were in the match from the get-go, Steve Gohouri hammering the underside of the crossbar after a mundane corner caused havoc in the Spurs box. Spurs had their own first-half opportunities, Jermain Defoe (who has now cancelled a scheduled operation) twice denied superbly by Wigan keeper Al Habsi after individual flashes of brilliance.
Wigan had set the pace, hassling Spurs with every turn of possession. Each time Tottenham attempted to build an attack from centre backs Dawson and Kaboul, they would find the ball at their feet once more within fifteen seconds. Wigan’s determination to press high up the pitch prevented Spurs from developing any rhythm, and manager Harry Redknapp was open with his disdain from the touchlines.
It likely poured out in the dressing room as well, with the error-prone Assou-Ekotto hauled off alongside Peter Crouch, who appeared to have a rib injury. Their replacements, Niko Kranjcar and Roman Pavyluchenko — both ineffectual.
In a second half that was even worse than the first, a stroke of genius or grave error was the only thing that looked like separating the two sides. Instead, Wigan missed two absolute sitters. The first fell to the centre-back, Antolin Alcaraz, who managed to put the ball into orbit in front of an open goal; and the second to Jordi Gomez — a more difficult chance.
With Wigan knocking on the door, Hugo Rodallega would settle the game. Cutting in to the corner of the 18 yard box, the Ecuadorian struck a low ball across Cudicini. Rodallega had eyes on the black shirt bearing down on the back post, but instead, the ball went under Cudicini’s poor excuse for a dive, and nestled in the corner of the net.
1-0 Wigan and deep trouble for Spurs, who hadn’t even looked like scoring the second period of play.
Naturally, Spurs went into desperation mode. Wigan lined up in two banks of five and looked to weather the storm. Two close efforts from Huddlestone and Defoe signalled the beginning of the meteor shower on Al Habsi’s goal. The grand finale saw the Arabian keeper’s finest moments, brilliantly denying first Michael Dawson, then Niko Krancjar as the game was finally brought to an end.
Spurs come out of this game slightly humiliated, handing all three points to an undeniably poor Wigan side that outworked and outfought their more glamorous opponents. Spurs should have known better than to underestimate any hard working team, and Wigan’s win via TKO proved that there isn’t a single team in the Premier League that can be beaten without creativity.
Without the injured Luka Modric, Spurs looked intent to play in straight lines, something that many top teams have found almost impossible to do against stubborn sides such as Wigan, or Stoke City.
Spurs may fare better next week, as they play a newly promoted West Bromwich Albion team that are committed to playing football — a style Spurs can work with. As for Wigan, a less than glitzy home date with Sunderland awaits.