Latics halt Chelsea revival
Wigan 1 Chelsea 1
A dramatic late equaliser by Jordi Gomez robbed Chelsea of all three points just when an efficient if uninspiring performance seemed to have preserved their winning habit. After a pulsating game on a cold night and a wet pitch neither side truly deserved to lose, but Wigan will undoubtedly be more pleased with their point than Chelsea, who played well enough to put suggestions of disunity or unrest to bed but not well enough to close out the victory that Daniel Sturridge's splendid opening goal seemed to have earned.
Wigan have been showing signs of life of late, briefly climbing out of the bottom three as a result of back-to-back away wins at Sunderland and West Brom though they have not won on at home since beating QPR in August and picking up points against a Chelsea side beginning to look businesslike again seemed a tall order.
Despite their lowly league position, the home side began with confidence and verve, Victor Moses tricking the Chelsea defence in the opening five minutes and Gomez having a penalty appeal against Ashley Cole turned down, probably correctly as he seemed to be seeking a favourable decision.
Wigan were somewhat oddly set up, with David Jones detailed to follow Daniel Sturridge and Mohamed Diame only notionally operating on the right wing, leaving only Ronnie Stam regularly covering the flank where Juan Mata and Cole found unexpected freedom. When Didier Drogba turned up in the wide open spaces on the left in the 12th minute it led to Chelsea's first attack of any note, though ideally Drogba would have been in the middle to meet Mata's inviting cross instead of the less imposing Sturridge.
Wigan were managing to keep Chelsea at bay, the visitors' best efforts of the first half hour were a speculative shot from 25 yards by John Terry that flew narrowly wide and an effort from a similar distance by Oriol Romeu that Ali al-Habsi tipped round a post, though by the mid-point of the first half the home side were being penned in their own half.
Before long Antolin Alcaraz, charging forward gamely from defence with the ball at his feet, represented Wigan's main line of attack and best hope of crossing the half-way line, as Chelsea patiently tightened the screw and waited for chances to arrive. They normally do with the Wigan defence, though when Diame popped up on the left to accept a cross-field pass from Maynor Figueroa he gave Chelsea something to think about by cutting inside and making space for a shot only a couple of feet off target.
For all Chelsea's control of the game they created very few chances. Five minutes before the interval, Wigan were unable to close down Raul Meireles in time to prevent him crossing for Drogba at the far post, but the striker could only head wide in any case.
Wigan's conviction that they were not getting any of the marginal decisions from Martin Atkinson increased when Moses saw a shot stopped on the line by Branislav Ivanovic and the referee immediately waved play on, despite a strong suggestion of handball.
Replays confirmed that it had, though it was not a raised arm and Ivanovic would have had difficulty getting out of the way, though that defence cut little ice when Harry Kewell not only conceded a penalty but was sent off for Australia against Ghana in the last World Cup.
The Wigan main stand gave Atkinson a spontaneous standing ovation when he finally blew for a foul on Moses a couple of minutes later. With the same striker narrowly failing to reach a Jones cross on the stroke of the interval in what was probably the first half's clearest chance, the home side could feel more than encouraged by reaching the break on level terms.
Moses continued to pose problems for the Chelsea defence in the second half with his control and tricky turns, even if his finishing and decision-making was not always as impressive. At one point he flicked the ball over two Chelsea defenders to leave himself with only Petr Cech to beat from inside the six-yard box, only to fire a volley that went out for a throw-in.
Drogba hit the side-netting with Chelsea's best chance after Salomon Kalou had escaped Alcaraz to skip to the byline, before the visitor's finally opened up Wigan with a classy move to take the lead just before the hour mark. Cole advanced to half way on the left and sent a glorious diagonal ball forward to pick out Sturridge's run into the penalty box from the opposite wing. Simultaneously bringing the ball down and getting goalside of what little remained of Wigan's defensive cover, Sturridge managed a decisive finish to beat Habsi from a narrow angle, The goal was all the more remarkable for coming at a stage when Chelsea were down to 10 men, Frank Lampard having left the field to receive treatment after being accidentally struck in the face by Diame.
Wigan kept at their task, Jones sending a shot over the bar and Figueroa bringing a save from Cech, and Andre Villas-Boas was sufficiently concerned to make a defensive substitution to protect what he had, replacing Mata with John Obi Mikel. Roberto Martinez responded by throwing on two more attackers in Hugo Rodallega and Franco Di Santo to chase the game, the latter bringing a sensational headed clearance off the line from the outstanding Cole after Cech had been caught out of position. Never at his most convincing, Cech was at fault again for the late Wigan equaliser, allowing Rodallega's shot to squirm out of his grasp for Gomez to score.
It was nothing less than the home side deserved, even if Chelsea must have though they had done enough to seal a victory.
Sunday Indo Sport