Wigan Athletic 2 Stoke City 2
WIGAN // The start of the rest of Charlie Adam's career began in Wigan yesterday. Now he is a former Liverpool player, a footballer who has to adjust to life outside the limelight. His playing days may always be defined by failure at Anfield but his Stoke debut almost had a dream denouement, albeit a fortunate one.
With five minutes remaining, City won a free kick 30 yards from the Wigan goal. Up stepped Adam, the man whose set-pieces Sir Alex Ferguson once said were worth £10 million but who failed to justify the £8m (Dh46.6m) fee Liverpool paid for him. Stoke's £4m signing curled it and, in his attempts to block, his Scotland teammate Gary Caldwell got a huge deflection. It wrong-footed Ali Al Habsi but the Wigan Athletic goalkeeper recovered to make a superb save before, somehow, Cameron Jerome failed to convert the rebound.
"Charlie played well," the Stoke manager Tony Pulis said. "He will be a great asset to the football club."
He made an impact upon his arrival. Adam is at least entitled to argue he changed the game. Or his introduction did, anyhow, in a radical reshuffle from Pulis that amounted to an admission his initial approach was not working. Wigan were out-passing, outclassing and, crucially, outnumbering Stoke in the midfield when right-back Andy Wilkinson was replaced by Adam 10 minutes before the interval.
Boldness brought a reward. Stoke, trailing to Shaun Maloney's fifth-minute penalty, levelled from the spot themselves. Both were awarded for handball, James McCarthy's shot hitting Robert Huth and then Peter Crouch's impromptu bout of juggling interrupted by the arm of Maynor Figueroa. Jonathan Walters, excellent throughout, converted from 12 yards.
Then Wigan reasserted themselves. Slick and quick in midfield, where James McArthur and McCarthy dovetailed neatly, they now seem more potent in attack. Both strikers scored in last week's win at Southampton and they combined for the second goal. Franco di Santo angled a pass forward to Arouna Kone who burst forward, slowed, stumbled and set up his strike partner and Di Santo slid his shot into the corner of the net.
His fifth goal in eight games, following an extended drought when the previous 97 produced just six, was clinically taken.
"I always knew Franco had tremendous potential as a striker," Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, said.
"He has a tremendous touch, great energy, great finishing and he can be outstanding."
Once again, however, Stoke supplied signs of their spirit. Adam picked out the unmarked Crouch with a free kick and he headed wastefully high. Redemption came for the striker when Walters dinked a cross in and Stoke's other exile from Anfield headed past Al Habsi.
But for the Omani goalkeeper, the Potters would probably have been the winners. He denied Jerome as well as Adam.
"The best compliment you can say is we don't get surprised," Martinez said. "Ali keeps producing this level. Since he arrived at the DW Stadium he has become a bit of a hero."
Not to Pulis, however. "We had the better chances," he said. The save from Adam was, he felt, "unbelievable".
After nine games without a win, a comeback nevertheless provided a fillip.
"Our attitude was fabulous," the Stoke manager added. It needed to be. There was dissent from the stands when Jerome was introduced, a chant of "you don't know what you're doing" coming from the travelling Potters.
"We're big, strong and ugly enough to accept it," said Pulis, shrugging it off.
After his substitutions altered the game and a new signing made an impact, it is a view the supporters may want to reconsider.
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