WIGAN ATHLETIC 2
Di Santo 61
A fifth 2-2 draw in eight meetings between Wigan Athletic and Stoke City brought excitement back to the Britannia Stadium for the fourth season in a row as Latics added to that Maynor Figueroa goal in 2009, Survival Sunday in May 2011 and Ben Watson’s first kick as a substitute with his 87th minute penalty on New Year’s Eve 2011.
A total of 76 goals in 28 meetings before this one was an indicator of just how action packed games between Latics and the Potters can be, with Latics even putting six past the Staffordshire side back in November 2001.
Latics came into the game looking to build on previous success three days earlier as they booked a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win against Blue Square Premier side Macclesfield Town.
The game provided a Premier League debut for Roman Golobart and first Premier League start for January signing Roger Espinoza, both of which witnessed the physical nature of a game against the Potters just three minutes in as Robert Huth and Franco Di Santo suffered head injuries after an aerial collision.
Both players played on but it set an exciting tone for the game ahead.
Latics suffered in the first half with Charlie Adam providing the main threat with deliveries into the penalty area and it was the Scottish play maker who caused the first error, when his free kick into the area was cleared by Jean Beausejour but straight into the back of James McCarthy and into the path of Potters’ captain Ryan Shawcross who volleyed in from close range.
Stoke took control of the first half but were limited to long range efforts but they limited Latics too, as the visitors only had their first effort of the game after 41 minutes when James McArthur turned a Jean Beausejour cross wide from close range.
Three minutes after half time Latics slipped 2-0 behind when possession was lost deep into Stoke’s half but Adam was allowed to break.
The Scotsman made an unchallenged run from inside his own half to the edge of Latics’ penalty area forcing Ali Al Habsi into a low save with his resulting shot, the Omani stopper pushed the ball to his left into the path of Peter Crouch who tapped it in.
Strangely a second goal from Stoke was just what Latics needed to spring into action and turn in a dominating performance.
The spritely Espinoza played a pivotal role in both goals, providing the assist for the first on 50 minutes.
On his 100th Premier League start for the club James McCarthy began the move from midfield, playing the ball into Franco Di Santo as he came deep for the pass.
The Argentinian’s one touch lay off to Espinoza was in turn taken first time and slotted between Shawcross and Steven N’Zonzi into the path of James McArthur who turned the ball in off the post first time with the outside of his right foot.
It was a quick fire goal and only two minutes after Stoke’s second, taking Latics into another gear and 11 minutes later it happened again.
Another swift attack ensued with Espinoza the catalyst as he clipped a cross to the back of the six yard box for McArthur to nod down into the path of Di Santo who beat his marker Huth to the ball and came out on top in the battle of the bandages as he swept in a volley from close range.
Two minutes later McArthur nearly completed a wild period for the visitors when more quick passing on the edge of the area confused their defence with Di Santo teeing up McArthur but Asmir Begovic being equal to the Scotsman’s shot with a sprawling save.
Shaun Maloney also stung the big Bosnian’s gloves with a shot from range as Latics’ build-up play became heavier and heavier, with Stoke’s on respite a flash-in-the-pan drive into the side netting from substitute Cameron Jerome.
Maloney began to pull out wide, attacking down the right with wing back Ronnie Stam who came on in the first half for the injured Emmerson Boyce.
They combined well right up until the end and with two minutes of stoppage time to go they helped create the perfect chance for Di Santo to grab a late winner.
Maloney set himself on the right wing, floating his cross in behind the Stoke defenders and with Latics’ fans behind the goal rising to their feet, Di Santo stretched in to try and divert the ball but could only get a slight touch as the chance went narrowly wide.
The nature of the spirited come back was arguably deserving of more than a point as Latics pulled themselves level with 17th place Reading in the Premier League table.
Stoke: Begovic, Cameron, Huth, Whelan, N’Zonzi (Wilkinson 68), Adam (Jerome 66), Shawcross, Whitehead, Walters, Crouch (Jones 86), Etherington
Latics: Al Habsi, McCarthy, Caldwell, Di Santo, Maloney, McArthur, Boyce (Stam 45), Espinoza, Beausejour (McManaman 83), Golobart, Figueroa
“I came here to work hard and to make the fans happy.
“If I could say two things to them then that would be that I’ll give them my all.
“I’d also say that I’ll never give up no matter if we’re losing or winning and I just hope that they can keep supporting me and more importantly keep supporting the team.”
“Roman did excellently because he’s a young lad and was given a real test against some very experienced forwards.
“As we know Stoke like to get the ball forward in the air and you need someone in defence who is willing to put their head in to get it clear and Roman does that.
“The good thing for us is Roman is a big lad and I think it worked well having him in the team.”
“It’s a proud day for me and for my family and friends too.
“I was sat in this ground on the day that we stayed up in 2011 with Abian Serrano who is now at Atletico Madrid and we both said to each other how amazing it would be to play in this league for this club, so it is quite fitting that my debut in the Premier League is here at the Britannia Stadium.
“All I need to do now is keep working hard and try to be as good as I can so I can get more chances in the first team.”
“It was a real tactical battle tonight, it was also a game that needed character and resilience to come back from 2-0 down and the players deserve a lot of credit for that.”