Unlikely lads Wigan shock Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur 0 Wigan Athletic 1: Just like last season at White Hart Lane, Wigan scored once. The difference this time was instead of being buried under a nine-goal avalanche, it was enough to earn them their first and least predictable points of the season.
Hugo Rodallega's 80th-minute strike was Wigan's opening goal of the League campaign. Just as notable was the clean sheet after conceding eight, four and six in three games either side of the summer break.
Tottenham had preceded this fixture with the romp over Young Boys which secured them a place in the Champions' League group stages. Perhaps a hangover was inevitable, but Harry Redknapp did not regard
the physical and emotional exertions of midweek as a legitimate excuse.
"The players should be full of confidence after winning four-nil, they should feel fantastic, not lethargic," he said. "But we started slow and never really got out of it."
The pre-match atmosphere was one of complacency and Redknapp admitted: "I fear these games. People turn up and expect you to walk all over them. We give the ball away after two minutes and it's 'boooo'. When you've not scored after 10 minutes the crowd are on your case."
Rodallega's goal owed much to the ineptness of Carlo Cudicini but the stand-in goalkeeper was not alone in guilt, the outfielders lacking speed of thought and movement. "We did not have the guile to break them down," added Redknapp, bemoaning the absence of Luka Modric.
Roberto Martinez, who had become hot favourite to be the next ex- manager signing up for match punditry, was a mixture of pride and relief. In an understandable excess of hyperbole the Wigan manager praised his players for "being prepared to give their lives for each other".
His reference to team spirit was pointed. Last week, he insisted, they had outplayed Chelsea in many areas of the game but lost 6-0 at home, in part because players had not competed with sufficient intensity in the one-on-one battles. Of yesterday he said: "We were a team, for once. We were very disciplined. It was a group of players working for each other."
The only outfield change was the exclusion of Charles N'Zogbia, whose move to Birmingham City broke down overnight after, according to Alex McLeish, the city manager, "the goalposts were moved" in reference to the player's personal terms. N'Zogbia had agitated for a move from Wigan. "It is difficult to see a way back for Charles," said Martinez. "It is difficult for other players to accept someone who is not committed."
Wigan were also without Chris Kirkland, said by Martinez to have a hip injury. It meant there were four survivors from last season's rout, a game almost as notable for being a rare start by Jonathan Woodgate as for its 9-1. "Last season was obviously in the minds of the players," said Martinez, "they could have had bad feelings".
If they did it was not obvious, as they started the brighter and should have scored when Steve Gohouri lashed against the bar after Antolin Alcaraz headed a corner back across goal. Spurs did not threaten until midway through the half when Jermain Defoe, who scored five in this match last season, drew a good low save from Ali Al Habsi.
The half-time arrival of Niko Kranjcar gave Spurs more flexibility and possession, but 10 minutes from time Wigan, who had gone all defensive, suddenly broke out, capitalising on the space behind Gareth Bale. Rodallega set up Alcaraz, who inexplicably missed, and Jordi Gomez, who shot over, before shooting himself. The ball bobbled under Cudicini to the delight of the 200-odd travelling fans.
Bring on Internazionale, did some Spur say in midweek? Not yet.