McCarthy strike not enough as Wigan edge closer to drop
Wembley have permitted Wigan one song to be played before kick-off on Saturday, and the club have chosen their fans' favourite 'I'm a Believer' by the Monkees.
Their fans believed in survival, in Roberto Martinez's ability to guide them out of trouble. Some expressed concern in the first half, receiving a fingers-to-the-lips shushing gesture from Paul Scharner, and they quickly got behind the team again, loving it when Roger Espinoza struck on the cusp of half-time before that crazy second period.
Until that moment of class, Wigan's play had been largely uninspiring. Mistakes were almost punished. Espinoza and Scharner allowed Wayne Routledge to run through, but his shot was pushed wide by Joel Robles. Swansea were bright for a period. From Jonathan de Guzman's corner, Rangel shot just wide.
For all this early promise, the League Cup winners still had the look of schoolboys whose exams have finished before the rest of their peers. They lacked urgency. Wigan were the ones fighting for their lives. Arouna Kone tried to increase the tempo, testing Michel Vorm with a shot. Then came Shaun Maloney, attacking in that twisting scampering way of his, but he chipped wide.
After 17 minutes, Swansea were presented with a gift of an indirect free kick eight yards out when Robles picked up Gary Caldwell's back-pass. The whole Wigan team stood on the line, as if preparing for a pre-season photograph. Then they all sprinted out as the ball was nudged back to Ashley Williams, whose shot was almost the highest thing over the DW last night. That honour went to a light aircraft that flew overhead before kick-off, trailing a banner wishing Wigan good luck at Wembley.
The game was drifting towards the break when Espinoza struck. Vorm's punched clearance fell nicely for the midfielder but the Honduran still had much to do. He adjusted his body to meet the dropping ball and caught it firmly, racing past Vorm. Formerly of Ohio State Buckeyes and Kansas City Wizards, Espinoza could not have chosen a better time to register his first goal for Wigan.
The DW DJ immediately played some Four Seasons, notably Let's Hang On (To What We've Got), and sentiments that lasted until five minutes into the second half. Routledge made the Swansea equaliser, lifting a superb ball from left to right which was met on the volley by Rangel, going in off the post.
Swansea then switched off. Caldwell stormed through the middle like a dreadnought picking up speed before finding McCarthy. As Swansea's defence opened up, McCarthy shot low and hard past Vorm. Having so impressed with that run, Caldwell then erred with a poor pass, allowing Swansea back into the game. Shechter had done little but took his chance well, placing the shot from the edge of the area past Robles.
McManaman was tiring, so Martinez removed him, sending on Franco di Santo. When Di Santo won a corner after 67 minutes, Maloney lifted the ball and Caldwell's header was tipped over by Vorm. Di Santo was lively, linking with Maloney on the left. Espinoza's cross was held by Vorm at the second attempt.
Michael Laudrup took off Shechter, putting Nathan Dyer into attack. With Pablo Hernandez, Routledge and Rangel in support, this was not the most physically imposing front-line in Swansea's history. Yet they took the lead after 76 minutes from some of the most wretched defending seen on a Premier League pitch this season. Wigan's backline was all over the place.
They are badly missing those injured regulars. Emmerson Boyce, Maloney and McArthur all failed to react sufficiently to the danger and Tiendalli was able to bundle the ball past Robles. (© Daily Telegraph, London)