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Aug 13, 2007

Stuck in a moment

Everton 2-1 Wigan Athletic

Wigan's opening day hoodoo continues as the Toffees took all three points in a forgettable encounter at Goodison Park.

Like previous defeats to Chelsea and Newcastle, this reverse means the Latics have yet to ever register a point on the first day of the Premier League season.

On the pitch, although not lacking in effort and perspiration, the away side's deficiencies at the back were cruelly exposed by the opportunistic hosts.

Everton started with intent and seemed to have planned in advance to test the resolve of makeshift full-back Kilbane. That task fell to Arteta, an omnipresent figure on the Blues' right-hand side. No disrespect to Kilbane, a victim of circumstance due to his team-mates' injuries or suspensions, because he is someone who gives his all no matter where he plays but this match proved he isn't a defender, such was his struggle to contain the rampaging Spaniard.

In the early exchanges, Arteta fed Osman only for the Wigan-born midfielder to wastefully chip over. This example of putting in the early ball from the flanks would ultimately bear fruit but when it did it was in a quite bizarre manner.

Disaster struck when Hibbert crossed from the right, the defence froze, Bramble in particular allowing the ball to bounce over him en route to the head of the leaping Osman, who still had plenty of work to do positioned at the edge of the area. Nonetheless, he sent a looping first-time header towards goal and a surprised Kirkland, caught a couple of yards off his line. The ball sped in off the underside of the bar to the goalkeeper's disbelief.

Kirkland perhaps was still thinking about his part in that goal later in the game when he twice fumbled under pressure from Anichebe and Osman after an Arteta set-piece. This time his back-line held firm and came to the rescue.

However, there was no reprieve when no one closed down Johnson on the left and he exploited this new-found space and time to pick out Anichebe. The youngster had the whole goal to aim at but inexplicably chose to thud towards the centre, where Bramble was unlucky not to intercept as the ball ricocheted off the bar before dropping over the line.

Typically, Wigan didn't give up without a fight and forced a tense final ten minutes with a flowing move of real quality. Heskey picked up possession a little more than two thirds in the opposition half and he reacted with speed of thought to flick the ball out onto the right and into the path of the galloping Scharner. The Austrian needed no invitation to send an appetising cross to the far-post and substitute Sibierski gratefully tucked the chance away with the minimum of fuss. Simplicity at its best.

But alas, despite a late effort from midfield engine Scharner, the host's net was not to be breached again and the visitors were faced once more with that familiar feeling of no points on the board after day one.

Manager Chris Hutchings was understandably upset with the way his side lost the game, branding the goals conceded as 'poor' from a defensive point of view. At the same time, he wasn't too downbeat and looked to the 'positives' from this game.

All in all, the overall performance was neither that good nor that bad. Both sides failed to shine and I feel that it was from the odd spark or lapse from individuals that decided how the match was won.

Debutant Koumas showed some nice touches without really hurting the Everton defence. I wouldn't agree with Hutchings' 'outstanding' appraisal based on this game but the Welshman showed potential and will use this as a platform to build on.

In the coming games, the defence will be greatly helped by the return of Boyce, one of last season's big pluses, and Taylor. As stated earlier, using Kilbane in the role vacated by Baines certainly needs to be addressed. Whether that means another raid in the market before August 31st is anyone's guess. One thing that does bode well at the back for the future is a new dimension of speed, so providing the errors can be wiped out, there is scope for coping with the league's quickest frontmen.

In midfield, both Landzaat and Valencia disappointed. The game seemed to pass by the Dutchman for long spells while the Ecuadorian rushed around the field at full-pelt without any real end-product. Their learning cycle in English football goes on.

Folan toiled up-front as Heskey's partner and it was down to his replacement, the not yet 100% match-fit Sibierski, to try and force the issue. Unexpectedly, he did just that and could well have earned his place in the starting XI come Wednesday night.

With the opener now done and dusted, Wigan can now focus on the other remaining 37 games that usually end with them preserving their league status.

The next test is provided by Middlesbrough at home, fresh from their defeat by Blackburn. The JJB needs to become a fortress in helping the club to pick up points. An improved display is expected, the emphasis will be on the Latics to take the game to their opponents with more guile and attacking play mixed with smarter defending.


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