25 October 2014
Derby County 1 Wigan Athletic 2
John Eustace 45 James McClean 69, 83
Welcoming Wigan Athletic as visitors is proving to be as pleasurable as a chore, a visit to the dentist or sitting a particularly tricky maths exam.
Following on from their 1-0 win on New Years Day Uwe Rosler’s Wigan arrived and again made themselves at home imposing their physical strength on the Rams and winning the least welcome guests of 2014 award hands down.
Wigan appeared to have mastered the art of shutting us down and closing off all of the avenues that we can exploit so well. They are a big physical team who worked exceptionally hard to prevent us having any time and space on the ball. It is difficult to comprehend their league position on this showing though clearly playing at the Ipro is to their taste.
The start to the game did not bode well – Wigan were quick out of the blocks and spent the first five minutes dominating possession and pinging the ball around our penalty area.
Wigan’s pressing made it increasingly difficult for us to play the ball out from the back, something that clearly unbalanced our play, they also allowed Zak Whitbread to take the lions share of possession from Jack Butland and exploited his difficulties in getting play moving.
This was not solely down to the centre half, who made a number of important tackles and interventions in the game, as Will Hughes & Craig Bryson were completely crowded out in the first half while Jordan Ibe flickered and only Johnny Russell played with any verve and in such a way to pose any questions.
It was an unusual game in many ways, for long periods Scott Carson’s howitzer like clearances from the Wigan goal were their only creative outlet and for a while a cat & mouse games developed at goal kicks as most of the Wigan players would drift over to one side of the pitch only for Carson’s mortar shell to be launched to the other side trying to isolate a defender one on one – which nearly worked at least once.
For all of the lack of flow and attack Jordan Ibe had one decent chance to put us ahead as he wriggled into the penalty area but fired into the side netting.
Uwe Rosler was a constant and loud presence in the technical area – managing to mix up angry barks at officials and players with winning smiles when it looked like he was about to receive a reprimand. His position close to the touchline lead to what looked like it was going to be the most notable incident in the first half when Johnny Russell battling for the ball with Figueroa was sent flying straight into the Wigan manager, sending him clattering to the ground like an upended skittle….much to the hilarity of the fans, and to be fair, the man himself.
Just as the first half was winding down referee Robert Madley awarded Wigan what looked to me a highly dubious penalty for handball. Step forward Jack Butland to round off an excellent first half for him at the Ipro by saving Tavernier’s penalty and a minute later John Eustace was stabbing into the Wigan net from short range following an excellent Russell free kick. We were 1-0 at half time and that felt good (and unexpected)
Derby swapped Ibe & Hughes for Dawkins and Hendrick at half time and this seemed to be recognition of Wigan’s physical superiority and for the first fifteen minutes of the second half the Rams were on top, with Simon Dawkins to the fore and carved out half chances that, had one been taken, would have closed the match out as another three points.
Sadly though from approx. 65 minutes, I could sense Derby’s momentum fading away and Wigan in turn stepping up. Sure, the two Wigan goals were scrappy with a touch of fortune but save for an injury time free kick from Chris Martin that just whistled past the post there was no real response from the Rams.
Steve McClaren’s growing frustration was clear to see on the sidelines but this was one game that our team spirit and will to win was not able to retrieve.
Still top thanks to other results it was still a thoughtful walk back to the car. Do we have a problem at home games now? – Perhaps too early to jump to that conclusion but a telling reminder that the Championship is the league that always surprises.