When you are down at the bottom of the league very little in the way of luck comes your way, and after giving a much better account of themselves away to Manchester City than they had done at home to Manchester United last week, Wigan left empty-handed through their own carelessness.
A goalkeeping howler of schoolboy proportions by the normally reliable Ali al-Habsi presented City with the points on a day when they were well below their best, giving Wigan the hollow satisfaction of having played the better football but thrown away the result. They could and should have escaped with a draw, but the late substitute Conor Sammon was unable to make his first opportunity in English football a memorable one, pulling his shot past a post when an equaliser appeared a formality.
If this was not City's worst performance of the season it was certainly one of their least plausible, like some of the excuses being advanced in defence of Kolo Touré's failed drugs test. The defender was an impassive spectator at this game; he had not been expected to attend, but made a surprise late appearance. He is still welcome at both stadium and training ground as City intend to remain supportive of the player while the FA's investigative procedure runs its course. The club would not confirm or deny Arsène Wenger's interpretation of events regarding the medication Touré may have been using, they were surprised that the Arsenal manager took it upon himself to go public on the matter. "We were very tired," Roberto Mancini said. "This victory is for Kolo, he's a fantastic man."
It was a far from fantastic victory. For the second successive game Roberto Martínez felt Wigan ought to have been playing 10 men, and even playing 11 the visitors could easily have caused an upset. For much of the time Wigan were the only side with any ideas. "City used their experience," the Wigan manager said. "There were a lot of technical fouls every time we got into attack situations. Micah Richards should have seen a straight red for his tackle on Tom Cleverley, but the overall number of fouls shows how the game went."
Although Richards and Gareth Barry were booked early for heavy challenges on Cleverley and Hugo Rodallega respectively, City at first appeared to have enough poise and balance to run through the Wigan defence. One surging run by Tevez took Antolín Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa out of the game, only for the eventual shot to roll the wrong side of Habsi's right upright. David Silva just missed the other post a few seconds later, flashing a well-struck shot narrowly wide when he might have done better to notice Mario Balotelli in space and screaming for the ball to his left.
It seemed just a matter of time before the home side opened the scoring, yet Wigan wasted the best chance to take the lead when James McCarthy fired high and wide on the half-hour. The City defence seemed to have taken care of a threatening run from Victor Moses, only for Vincent Kompany to give the ball away again in his own penalty area when he had a chance to clear. A pass from a colleague could not have presented McCarthy with a clearer sight of goal or a more inviting opening, yet he rushed his shot when composure was needed and the opportunity was missed.
If Martínez was disappointed by that he looked positively crestfallen at what happened next. His defence parted like a flimsy curtain to allow City a goal that was barely deserved, at least in the manner of its scoring. First Adrián López slipped as he came across to challenge Silva, allowing his compatriot space to shoot, then Habsi let a fairly ordinary effort through his hands and then his legs to trickle over the line. It was hardly an auspicious moment for López, making his Premier League debut, though if Habsi was guilty of making the most basic goalkeeping error – not getting anything behind the ball – Latics can hardly point the finger given the number of times he has come to their rescue this season.
Wigan were unlucky at the start of the second half when Alcaraz's sidefoot volley struck a post from Ben Watson's corner. Perhaps the City defenders were not expecting anything quite so subtle from a centre-back for they were almost caught cold, with no one making a move to reach the ball. The visitors' attack predictably improved as soon as Charles N'Zogbia came on for the last half-hour, and Joe Hart had to make a sharp save to keep out a goalbound effort from McCarthy from the edge of the area.
City were not finding the second half quite the breeze they might have imagined, and Mancini responded by withdrawing Balotelli. Not for Edin Dzeko, as might have been expected, but for an extra midfielder in Aleksandar Kolarov. Another defensive substitution followed when Nigel de Jong came on for Silva, as City decided to protect what they held, though Dzeko did make an appearance in place of Tevez for the last few minutes. De Jong was warmly greeted after seven matches out through injury, though City fans were beginning to file out by then.
Wigan could not be faulted for endeavour but do not appear to carry the goal threat to escape their present predicament, as could be seen when Rodallega wasted a late chance with a tame shot straight at Hart and then Sammon missed his glorious opportunity to equalise in the final minute. City do have potent strikers, they just sometimes choose to keep them well hidden. Like Mrs Touré should have done with her slimming pills.
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT
PAUL SARAHS, Observer reader It was a deserved win, although it should probably have been by a wider margin. Our play was inspired at times and Silva and Tevez were spectacular in the first half. Silva is a magician; his vision, touch and passing - and for a 'luxury' player he puts himself about the pitch. It was a really basic keeper error for our goal, but we were good value for the win - we had a lot of chances. Balotelli is a strange one: he does the impossible with ease and then sometimes seems to lose concentration with the easy stuff. But it's three points, which keeps us ahead of Chelsea and Spurs.
The fan's player ratings Hart 7; Richards 7, Kompany 8, Lescott 8, Zabaleta 6; Vieira 7, Barry 6; Balotelli 7 (Kolarov 68 6), Silva 9 (De Jong 83 n/a), Y Touré 7; Tevez 6 (Dzeko 83 n/a)
JOHN FINCH, Observer reader We didn't do badly: their goal was a nightmare for Habsi, but otherwise we did some decent things, and came so close to taking a point at the end. It was agonising to watch that go wide. And the game could have been different if the ref had had the bottle to send off Micah Richards early on for trying to cut Tom Cleverley in half. But despite the promising moments, it still doesn't feel like we have enough. There's still a real fragility and negativity about us that we can't shake off. I'd love to see us throw caution to the wind and start really going for it in the remaining games.
The fan's player ratings Habsi 5; Lopez 6 (Gohouri 68 5), Caldwell 6, Alcaraz 6, Figueroa 6; Watson 5; Moses 7 (N'Zogbia 59 6), Diame 6 (Sammon 83 7), McCarthy 6,Cleverley 6, Rodallega 5
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