Prior to the game all the talk was whether Rafa Benitez would continue his tenure as Chelsea’s interim manager if they failed to beat Wigan. However, by the 95th minute the Spaniard was relieved that his top players had performed well enough to overcome a stubborn Wigan side who themselves were desperate for the points. The Latics remain in the bottom three and have only won once in the previous 13 league games. The pressure is mounting and the customary late season revival hasn’t materialised.
Wigan had Captain Gary Caldwell in defence despite having missed the mid-week Scotland international through injury and Arouna Kone returning from African Nations Cup duty only had a place on the bench. Chelsea had Petr Cech back in goal and Juan Mata and Demba Ba on their bench.
Wigan started brightly with Franco Di Santo forcing Cech to save with his feet and then Shaun Maloney curling an effort which the Chelsea keeper saved at almost full stretch.
The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was perhaps understandably subdued and the customary chants for Roberto Di Matteo didn’t lighten the mood until a superb counter attacking goal lifted the home fans stupor.
David Luiz broke quickly and fed a pass through to Fernando Torres. The striker produced a sublime angled ball inside Maynor Figueroa and into the path of Ramires and the Brazilian finished with aplomb.
The home team were now in the ascendancy and Ali Al Habsi had to be at his best to keep out a powerful header by Torres and Frank Lampard fired just wide of the Omani keeper’s right hand post.
Wigan’s midfield were once again having an off day with Roger Espinoza struggling to get into the game and both James McCarthy and James McArthur looking subdued. Only Shaun Maloney looked likely to make an impact and it was the hard-working Scot who nearly created the equaliser just before half time. His floated cross to the far post was heading towards James McCarthy but an astute interception by Cesar Azpilicueta cleared the danger.
The second half began with Wigan having slightly the better of the play with Paul Scharner having a header saved by Cech and then Di Santo breaking into the Chelsea box pulling the ball back from the by line but unable to find a Wigan attacker to finish off the move.
On 56 minutes the home team doubled their lead after some slack defending by Jean Beausejour, the Chilean wing back allowed Azpilicueta far too much space inside the box and the Spanish full back cut inside before feeding Eden Hazard who side footed past Al Habsi.
Despite the set back Latics responded positively and two minutes later it was that man again, Shaun Maloney who got the goal. Paul Scharner made a great tackle in his own half to dispossess Hazard and the Austrian fed McArthur who played a good through ball to Maloney and with Cech well out of his goal the Scot scored from an acute angle.
With the score at 2-1 neither team looked comfortably in control and Wigan were denied a possible penalty when from close range Ronnie Stam’s shot hit Ashley Cole on the arm. Referee Mike Dean waved away Wigan’s appeals but it was certainly a debatable decision and one which could have been gone either way.
Chelsea introduced Juan Mata for the Brazilian Oscar and the Spanish midfielder had a part to play in Chelsea’s third goal. After Wigan pressure the home team broke quickly and Hazard got to the Wigan by line before pulling the ball back for Mata to step over and allow Frank Lampard to score his 198th goal for the club, four off Bobby Tambling’s all time record.
On 90 minutes things got worse for Wigan when a speculative effort by Azpilicueta was only parried and the ball fell invitingly to Marko Marin who slotted home his first ever goal for the home team.
The scoreline was harsh on Wigan but it could have been harsher on 94 minutes if Al Habsi hadn’t produced a brilliant double save to deny first Ramirez and then Torres.
Wigan’s next league fixture is at fellow strugglers Reading and it is now looking critical that they get a positive result from the game. A defeat is almost unthinkable if they are to have any realistic hopes of surviving in the top flight.
Looking forward to the fixture both Emmerson Boyce and long absentee Antolin Alcaraz should be available for selection and as Wigan fans know when the chips are down, the team usually produce something very special.