x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Best and Worst: Late Wigan Athletic surge is full of Shaun Maloney

Wigan Athletic's Shaun Maloney wwill not go down quietly, Tottenham's Gareth Bale is still debated and the need for goal-line technology is proven once again, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Wigan Athletic’s Shaun Maloney, centre, celebrates Saturday after a win over West Brom. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Wigan Athletic’s Shaun Maloney, centre, celebrates Saturday after a win over West Brom. Clive Mason / Getty Images

Best Latic – Maloney

Wigan Athletic's remarkable habit of coming alive with the spring blossoms is in full flow following their determined away win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. When Roberto Martinez has his side playing like this, it is difficult to imagine them being relegated and almost impossible to single out any one player for praise.

Callum McManaman, hero of the hour in their FA Cup semi-final win over Millwall and having last week fired past Tottenham Hotspur, too, scored the winner once again. James McArthur and Arouna Kone had both snatched equalisers to keep the game –and survival hopes – alive. James McCarthy, as ever, was influential in midfield.

Yet it was the two-footed Shaun Maloney who once again proved he is the real magician when it comes to Wigan's annual great escape. The Scotsman has popped up time and again to save his side's skin and on Saturday he provided another two assists to secure a vital victory.

If Wigan go down, they will go down fighting – and Maloney will magically disappear to another team.

Best example – Bale

Gareth Bale splits opinions like he does defences. Was he deserving of the PFA Player, Young Player and Football Writers' Player of the Year awards? Yes: He has scored a collection of strikes that could be compiled into their own goal-of-the-season competition and single-handedly kept Tottenham in the chase for the Uefa Champions League places. No: He dives, he does not contribute enough consistently and the reliant Spurs, as a result, run the risk of achieving precisely zilch this year.

That appears to be the debate and on Saturday at home to Southampton, the Welshman provided perfect ammunition for both sides. For 85 minutes, he looked anonymous and unthreatening and had managed, like the rest of his toothless Spurs side, zero shots on target. But then he produced his minute of magic, cutting inside and drilling powerfully into the far corner from 20 yards to hand his side an undeserved three points.

It made Bale, on his 200th appearance for Tottenham, and against his former club, the first Spurs player since Jurgen Klinsmann to net 20 league goals in a season.

Klinsmann, who arrived in England with a reputation as a diver, also won the Football Writers' Player of the Year Award – and left for Bayern Munich the following year.

Best timing – technology

Along with autumn leaves, another feature that will arrive in England this August will be the much-awaited introduction of goal-line technology (GLT). So when better to have an exemplary moment of did-it-cross-the-line controversy than in a must-win match near the climax of a perfectly poised season? At Upton Park on Saturday, in a split second, the dire need for GLT was shown once again.

The benefits such technology will bring were driven home as Newcastle United's Papiss Cisse slipped the ball past West Ham United's Jussi Jaaskelainen only to see it hacked away by Winston Reid. The linesman in charge of making the call had slipped while running back, but he deemed the ball had not crossed the line. Replays from various angles threw up different results –which means the linesman essentially got it right. If in doubt: no goal.

Come August, such a situation will be dealt with speedily and professionally, while removing the focus from the unfortunate official.

Worst refereeing – Friend

One thing GLT will not do is decide whether rash challenges warrant warnings, bookings or the dreaded red card. Kevin Friend, refereeing the tie between Norwich City and Aston Villa at Carrow Road, decided the away side's Joe Bennett deserved a yellow when he hauled down Wes Hoolahan in the 18th minute.

Bennett, who was sent off when the two sides met earlier in the season, appeared on a mission to emulate his previous feat.

First, he proceeded to give away a similarly silly free kick seven minutes later for a tug on the same player, then 10 minutes later again: another free kick; another foul by Bennett. The Villa defender was desperately lucky still to be on the pitch and when he bundled over Robert Snodgrass in the area and gave away a penalty, a red card looked a certainty.

Only Friend did not see it that way. The man in black clearly was not convinced by his own decision and did not give a second yellow.

Chris Hughton, the Norwich manager, was livid and rightly so. Bennett left the field moments later – after getting the hook from his manager Paul Lambert.

Worst grin – Luiz

The sight of David Luiz lying with his back to the referee in the final minutes of Sunday night's Chelsea win over Manchester United provided the weekend with its new comic villain. After making the most of a needless, rash challenge from Rafael Da Silva, the man often likened to The Simpsons' Sideshow Bob crumpled to the ground, but was seen grinning unscrupulously, shadows casting a dark, evil twist across his face.

Howard Webb produced the red card to hand United their first sending off of the season. But it was the sight of Luiz laughing as he deliberately got his compatriot sent off that will linger. Despite the grin on Luiz's face, it's no laughing matter.


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