Maynor Figueroa sees Wigan Athletic past fast-falling Birmingham City

Maynor Figueroa is the current holder of Match of the Day's coveted goal of the season award.

Maynor Figueroa sees Wigan Athletic past fast-falling Birmingham City But his audacious effort from his own half against Stoke last season will pale into insignificance in comparison to the value of the last-gasp winner at the DW Stadium, should it contribute to the preservation of Wigan's Premier League status.

The Honduran left-back celebrated his 100th league start for the Lancashire club by rifling in a right-footer from 20 yards two minutes into injury time. It was his first goal since that stunner in the Potteries 15 months ago and ensured a heady climax to a proverbial six-pointer. Wigan are now only two points away from 17th place and such is the intensity of the relegation fight that this one could play as pivotal a role in Carling Cup winners Birmingham's season. They now sit next to bottom, a point better off.

Alex McLeish's visitors were within touch of a 14th draw of the campaign when the first-half goalscorer Tom Cleverley teed up Figueroa, whose clumsy gait belied the humdinger that followed, as the ball found its way through a crowd of bodies and past Ben Foster. "Normally Figueroa's right leg is for standing on," McLeish, who toasted Wembley success over Arsenal three weeks ago on Sunday, said. "But he threw his weight behind it and how it ended up in the back of the net is an absolute mystery."

Goals were expected to be at a premium in a contest between the Premier League's two lowest-scoring teams. For Wigan, however, their tally is not for the want of trying – they had required a baker's dozen worth of attempts for every one of their efforts this season before this – and they brimmed with endeavour from first to last.

Statistics, like bikinis, reveal as well as conceal and although Foster may have been culpable in part for both goals, the suggestion is he could be better protected. Up until this game he had made more saves than any of his top-flight rivals.

And he was the busier of the two goalkeepers by far: twice inside the opening four minutes Roberto Martínez's team carved out opportunities but Antolín Alcaraz's header lacked power and direction while Tom Cleverley's snap-shot on the turn also proved too central. Eighteen minutes into the second period, he kicked out Figueroa's attempt after a scintillating exchange between Victor Moses and Charles N'Zogbia fashioned the chance.

Martínez's side trailed to Liam Ridgewell's early goal, volleyed in from what appeared to be an offside position, but were rewarded for their patience in possession when Ben Watson's deadweight pass unpicked the visitors defence, Emmerson Boyce clipped in low from the right byline and Cleverley exposed Foster's fumble in a flash.

Wigan displayed the greater urgency to further alter the scoreline and believed they had when substitute Hugo Rodallega lobbed in late on, only for the referee, Lee Probert, to punish a push on Roger Johnson.

Persistence paid off, however, and Martínez received an antidote for the bout of ill luck he wrote about in his programme notes when Figueroa added another limited edition goal. "We all knew how important this game was," Martínez said. "We are now at the stage of the season where you cannot hide."


MARK ASHURST, Observer reader We started slowly but we more than deserved to win. They scored early on and we began to wonder whether we were going to get the result we needed. It was an appalling second half with Birmingham wasting time throughout the half. A point would have done them and they played for that. But they were made to pay for it in the end. The two substitutions really changed the game, we went to a more attacking formation. It was a fantastic way to win a game. We'll still struggle to survive and I'd be surprised if we stayed up. There's a lot of teams in the mix and I'm not sure we score enough goals. The win keeps us afloat but if we had lost then that would have been it.

The fan's player ratings Habsi 6; Boyce 8, G Caldwell 8, Alcaraz 7, Figueroa 8; McCarthy 7, Watson 7; N'Zogbia 7 (Diamé 90 n/a), Moses 6 (Sammon 63 8), Cleverley 7; Di Santo 5 (Rodallega 63 8)

JON BERRY, To be honest, we got what we deserved. It was a very poor performance. I'm reluctant to blame the man who brought  us Carling Cup success  but you have to wonder why Alex McLeish set the side up so negatively. The second  half was an accident waiting to happen. He knows we are vulnerable to pace but he invited Wigan on to us and we paid the price. I'm pessimistic about our chances of staying up because we have failed to beat the side around us. We don't pose enough of a threat going forward either.

The fan's player ratings Foster 5; Carr 6, Johnson 7, Jiranek 6 (Davies 15 4), Ridgewell 7; Larsson 6, Mutch 5 (Martins 64 4), Ferguson 4, Gardner 4, Beausejour 3 (Bentley 59 4); Jerome 6

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Powered by article was written by Richard Gibson at the DW Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 19th March 2011 17.12 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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