Changes to the line-up were to be expected with Callum McManaman out, yet three changes were made. In stepped Ali Al Habsi in goal, with Roman Golobart starting in defence as Ben Watson came into the middle of the park. Jordi Gomez then went to play out of the wider areas.
It was Aston Villa though who started the better. Latics looking a bit sluggish of the line, as the week tolled on the players. We were lucky not to go behind in the first couple of minutes, an Aston Villa free-kick, taken by Joe Bennett, palmed away by the outstretched Ali Al Habsi.
The attacking menace of Villa continued and anyone who said they were a one man team was wrong, as a rare start for Darren Bent saw him score inside minutes; the former England international managing to sweep the ball onto the post from 18 yards out as it hit the post and bounced into the goal.
That wasn’t in the script!
Wigan though woke up and started to get a foot hold in the game. Too much this season we have come into game once we have gone behind, this time we managed to get a few goals though. Arouna Kone was looking menacing in attack as Shaun Maloney and Jordi Gomez looked to slip inside in the gaps behind the forward. That left us with no true width for most of the game.
When we did get the ball wide we were creating chances. Arouna Kone twice going through on goal after being thread through, and twice he was denied. The first a great tackle from Nathan Baker, the second a sweeping save by Brad Guzan.
Yet 20 minutes in and yet again working a wide position we managed to get level. Shaun Maloney finding Roger Espinoza in space wide on the left hand-side, the Honduran who has been improving massively in the past few games whipped a left footed cross into the back post and there was Emmerson Boyce to head home. 1-1 and that was much more like it from Wigan.
As the goal went in, there was a minute’s applause as the 23,000 fans at the game applauded a true footballing legend; one of the true nice guys in football Stylian Petrov, a player who will be sorely missed from the game.
We now looked lot more comfortable on the ball and worked it much better when we had it. When we didn’t we held our line and tried to work out form the back as we always have done. We will never change how we play football now and with a minute of the half left Wigan Athletic had a corner.
Shaun Maloney stood over it, and whipped the ball in causing havoc, Aston Villa player dived, ducked and generally missed the ball. Ban Watson fired the ball towards goal, Ashley Westwood cleared it away from the goal line, and the ball hit the back of Baker. 2-1 to Wigan and we deserved our half time lead.
The second half and the Wigan sun had come out. Much like the sun it was the bright and shiny Wigan that started the half, as we cut through Villa like a knife. James McCarthy and McArthur both had chances to score. One denied by Guzan, the other missing the shot. It was the captain who again came closest though. A cross from the left again upset the Aston Villa defence. Boyce at the back posted header towards goal, it was headed back to him before his volley hit the cross bar and bounced away from the Wigan players.
Villa then went down the other end and got a freekick. The ball was high and looping and a dazzled Roman Golobart watched it loop over his head to Ronald Vlarr. The defender then volleyed it superbly into the top corner of the net leaving Ali Al Habsi no chance to save it.
The tie could have swung Villa’s way, yet Latics tried to get back ahead. For the next half an hour it was one way traffic and Wigan had another three good chances to score before the close of play. James McArthur hitting the post from a lovely strike 10 yards out. Arouna Kone heading over from two yards out, while in the last minute of added time Roman Golobart chipped the ball back goal wards from a free kick. Yet the roof of the net bulged.
2-2 and on the surface of it a fair result. Villa took their chances when they came, Wigan on the other hand couldn’t capitalize on their lovely creative play, as Wigan bring a close to their Premier League time, for now.