Wigan End Perfect Chelsea Start As United Go Top
Wigan Athletic brought Chelsea’s undefeated Premier League start to a crashing halt as goals from Paul Scharner, Titus Bramble and a Hugo Rodallega penalty gave them a 3-1 win.
The turning point was Petr Cech’s sending off after clipping Rodallega in the area. The Czech goalkeeper was correctly shown the red card and the resulting penalty was slotted home by the Colombian striker.
Chelsea scored through Didier Drogba but that will be scant consolation for Carlo Ancelotti in his first loss in English football.
In the week leading up to the game, Latics boss Roberto Martinez enriched training “group therapy” amongst his ailing players after a 4-0 capitulation at Arsenal. The need to keep spirits high was imperative given their impending clash against another top four team, Chelsea.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men were flying off a clean sweep of wins and the return of Joe Cole and Yuri Zhirkov from injury. Still, given their opponents’ Jekyll and Hyde start to the season, there was some concern as to which Wigan Athletic would turn up.
Martinez earned plaudits in the Championship for turning Swansea City into an expansive and free flowing ‘Barcelona-lite’. The philosophies have not quite translated onto the Premier League stage with the Spaniard’s new team.
Perhaps the personnel have not been right or maybe these methods need time to be realised but some heavy defeats this season have summoned critical echoes of West Bromwich Albion’s relegation last season. In some quarters, the Baggies were praised for adopting an attractive, open style but most others deemed them naive and flimsy under the weight of the top flight.
The home team adapted their line-up from last week’s defeat to reflect perhaps a more cautious, direct approach. Creative orchestrators Jason Koumas and Jordi Gomez were dropped for the defensive midfielder Paul Scharner and battling striker Jason Scotland.
The only change for Chelsea from last week’s league win against Tottenham Hotspur was John Obi Mikel coming in for Michael Ballack who was struggling with a slight calf injury. Despite being more effectual on his return than his fellow returnee Zhirkov, Joe Cole failed to make the bench at the expense of the Russian international.
Top scorer Didier Drogba recovered sufficiently from a leg injury to participate.
The game started brightly with a host of chances. A Nicolas Anelka free kick bounced out to Ashley Cole who then cut the ball back to Essien, waiting menacingly outside of the area. The Ghanaian drove the ball fiercely towards the Wigan goal but Chris Kirkland was there to tip it wide.
A minute later, the flamboyant Hugo Rodallega found possession down the other end and tried a cheeky chip over Petr Cech. The Chelsea keeper managed to backtrack to his line to tip the ball over.
Anelka again threatened following interplay with Drogba. He shot from a tight angle at the edge of the area but the ball spun just wide of the far post.
The opening passage, while end-to-end, was characterised by numerous small fouls as Wigan looked to close Chelsea down at every opportunity. The league leaders were unsettled by Wigan’s dogged determination; especially given their pre-match billing as a lightweight outfit.
Intact from the opening Blues rampage, the Latics began to assert themselves in the game. N’Zogbia fed Jason Scotland who found an opening to test the Chelsea goal. Cech knocked the ball behind for a corner as the home crowd, sensing the turn of the tide, increased the decibels in the DW Stadium. The resulting N’Zogbia corner was again deflected out by Essien.
Rodallega stepped to the corner flag this time and quickly played it short to N’Zogbia. The Frenchman then launched the ball deep into the penalty area. Titus Bramble, evading the normally alert Chelsea markers, thumped a scorching header past the congestion of players and into the right corner of the Chelsea net.
A later replay indicated that Rodallega’s corner was taken just out of the arc. Therefore it was kicked illegally. By the letter of the law, the goal should not have stood but that is scant consolation for Ancelotti in how easily his defence lost the on-rushing Bramble.
Chelsea received another blow shortly after when Hendry Thomas went in hard on Frank Lampard. The tackle was fair but firm enough to hurt Lampard. The clash seemed to take the wind out of the England international’s sails as he laboured through the rest of the half.
Chasing an equaliser, Chelsea upped the tempo and became more aggressive in their tackling. The remainder of the first half became a physical battle with neither side allowing the other to play the possession football that they are known for.
Drogba targeted the Wigan goal with a direct free kick and a shot from inside the area just before the break but Kirkland was not particularly challenged.
Wigan had chances of their own; notably Emerson Boyce off another corner. The defender was in a promising position but his shot was uncomfortably smothered by Cech.
In the second half, Juliano Belletti was brought on to replace John Obi Mikel; perhaps with his penchant for long range screamers in mind. The energy of Latics trio Scharner, Thomas and Mohamed Diame had rendered Mikel ineffective so it was no surprise that Ancelotti looked to solidify in the centre of midfield.
The half-time change instantly bore fruit as Florent Malouda broke forward and cut the ball back to Didier Drogba. The Ivorian eluded the Wigan defence to prod the ball into the net. Kirkland got a weak hand to it but should have done better.
Chelsea maintained the pressure. John Terry met a Lampard corner to steer the ball goalwards but his effort was blocked by Diame.
Just when it seemed that Ancelotti’s side were moving into a higher gear, Wigan hit back. Picked out by Scotland, Rodallega ran into the area.
With no other options due to his defence being parted by the Colombian, Petr Cech had to commit to stopping the striker. Stop him he did – but without winning the ball. The penalty was justly rewarded and there was only one outcome. Cech was shown a straight red card for clipping the Wigan attacker.
Chelsea frantically rearranged their team to compensate for the dismissal. Reserve keeper Hilario replaced Malouda and the Portuguese faced the immediate concern of a Wigan penalty. Rodallega stepped up and confidently dispatched the spot-kick to make it 2-1 to the home team.
Activity calmed somewhat after a frenetic start to the second half. Chelsea understandably struggled with ten men as Anelka was asked to drop deeper to provide greater creative nous against the stubborn Wigan rearguard.
Martinez directed his side to make their extra man advantage count by keeping possession but sloppy passes meant that Chelsea’s pressure was not soaked up. Didier Drogba, famed for generating the spectacular when his side are most in need, parodied his reputation with an overhead kick from six yards out, which flew well over Kirkland’s goal.
Chelsea then started to lose their rhythm as Wigan finally settled into their passing game. Paul Scharner lashed an ambitious long range shot but it flew well wide. Aside from that, they were content to frustrate their depleted opponents.
Ancelotti replaced Jose Bosingwa with striker Salomon Kalou to spark pace into Chelsea’s attack. The substitution brought the home crowd more nerves but Kalou frustrated his side when he miscontrolled when a shooting opportunity looked to be on. A minute later, the young striker seized a chance to shoot at the expense of Lampard, who was better placed.
Chelsea piled men forward late on but were caught out in a staggering finale. In the last few minutes, Ashley Cole had to leave the pitch for treatment on an injury, reducing his side to nine men. This did not deter Chelsea’s forward foray as they were desperate for an equaliser.
Maynor Figueroa spotted a huge gap down Chelsea’s right side – vacated by the substituted Bosingwa – and charged forward. A slew of Wigan players burst forward with all their energy and outnumbered the away team.
The Honduran left-back spotted the determined run of Paul Scharner and crossed for his colleague to easily slot the ball in. In truth, Scharner was one of several Wigan players ready to meet the pass as Chelsea were spread so far into the opposite half.
The DW Stadium erupted as Roberto Martinez’s men proved their steel more than matches their flair. Meanwhile, Ancelotti is left with the bitter taste of Premier League defeat.