Sport Soccer

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Piledriver nails Wigan as Russians hold out for win

Rubin Kazan 1 Wigan 0

Rubin Kazan's Roman Eremenko and Wigan Athletic's Ryan Shotton, left, battle for a ball during their Europa League group D soccer match in Kazan, Russia
Rubin Kazan's Roman Eremenko and Wigan Athletic's Ryan Shotton, left, battle for a ball during their Europa League group D soccer match in Kazan, Russia

Phil Medlicott

WIGAN suffered the first defeat of their maiden European campaign as Oleg Kuzmin's strike steered Rubin Kazan to a 1-0 victory in Russia.

What ultimately proved to be the decisive moment of the Europa League Group D match at the Central Stadium - which has the Kazan Kremlin as a dramatic backdrop - came in the 22nd minute when Kuzmin latched on to a lofted ball into the area and cracked it home.

The effort seemed to go right through 21-year-old goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, who was making his European debut in only his fifth senior Latics appearance. But given the ferocity of Kuzmin's shot, the England youth international appeared to have little chance of keeping it out.

It was the only real incidence of potent attacking from either side in a subdued first half, but Wigan stepped things up after the break and came close to equalising.

Thomas Rogne sent a header against the bar and late on James McClean's touch diverted the ball just the wrong side of the post.

The leveller would not come, though, as group leaders Rubin - who Wigan drew 1-1 with at the DW Stadium in their last European outing - claimed all three points.

The Russian outfit now have 10 points, while Wigan have five, with both teams having played four games.

Wigan boss Owen Coyle had expressed his confidence before the match that his players would not be subjected to racist abuse - like Manchester City's Yaya Toure was at CSKA Moscow - and while there was plenty of noise generated by the Rubin fans, there seemed to be nothing of that nature.

Around 150 Latics supporters had made the lengthy journey from Wigan and they saw their team take a while to get going.

Rubin settled quicker and won a corner in the 12th minute that led to Aleksandr Ryazantsev miskicking when well placed in front of goal.

Two corners in quick succession then followed for Wigan, with the second creating a brief moment of panic for Rubin in their box before they managed to clear.

Moments later, Rubin were in front as full-back Kuzmin ran on to Bebras Natcho's ball forward and drilled his shot beneath Nicholls.

Ryan Shotton misplaced a pass at the back soon after and Ryazantsev looked to take advantage, firing wide from outside the box.

Wigan tried to generate some momentum and Grant Holt headed over from Roger Espinoza's cross.

The Latics then made a couple of blocks to repel Rubin and Espinoza burst forward on the counter-attack before taking a tumble in the box under the attention of the home defence, with no penalty being awarded.

McClean sent a free-kick into the area but it bounced out with no-one having been able to apply a finish and Sergei Ryzhikov then had little trouble catching a header from Holt.

Ryzhikov looked a little more flustered when trying to punch away Stephen Crainey's free-kick just before half-time, but his defence cleared up.

The goalkeeper was in trouble again early in the second half when Shotton's long throw into the box deceived him and Leon Barnett sent the ball against the bar, but the flag was up from the referee's assistant.

Nicholls then did well, coming out and getting down at the feet of Ruslan Mukhametshin, before Ryazantsev shot wide as Rubin began to look dangerous again.

Nick Powell, who had come on for James Perch, found some space nicely before lashing an effort wide from distance, but Rubin were soon back on the attack as Rogne got himself in the way of Ryazantsev's shot.

Coyle shuffled his pack further, bringing on Marc-Antoine Fortune and Jordi Gomez for Holt and Callum McManaman.

And Fortune sent a shot into the side netting, before Rogne went even closer to bringing things level, with his looping header hitting the bar.

McClean also nearly made it 1-1 in the closing stages as the ball came off him from Gomez's corner and flashed wide.

At the other end, Nicholls made a good save while the flag was up for offisde and then spilled the ball, which came to Ryazantsev, who scooped off-target.

Reflecting afterwards, Coyle said: "I was a little bit annoyed in that from our point of view, it was a soft goal to lose.

"But in the second half, we dominated a very good side.

"We certainly shouldn't be leaving here on the end of a 1-0 scoreline. We have hit the woodwork and had numerous chances in the second half.

"In our first foray in European football, I think this was an outstanding performance - we looked like a very mature European team and I was delighted with them.

"My only disappointment is to leave with no points, because we certainly deserved to take something from the game."

Coyle felt his team had responded to the supporters' efforts with a suitable performance.

"I felt the players were a credit to the football club," Coyle said.

"The fans travelled here to Kazan, who have made everyone feel very welcome, and I felt the players certainly showed application and a lot of quality at times as well on a difficult pitch.

"We are disappointed, but not with the performance - only in terms that we have taken no points and lost our uneaten record in European football."

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