Crystal Palace 2 Wigan Athletic 1

Ben Watson in action in the Carling Cup fixture at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace
Ben Watson in action in the Carling Cup fixture at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace

AN injury-time strike from Eagles old boy Ben Watson wasn’t enough to prevent Latics crashing out of the Carling Cup at the first hurdle on a sorry night in South London.

As expected, Roberto Martinez made a raft of changes – seven in total – from the side that lost at Manchester City on Saturday.

And, as a result, the side looked disjointed for long periods, only spring to life in the last quarter – by which time the Eagles were two goals clear.

Goals from Darren Ambrose and Jonathan Williams were enough to secure Palace’s passage to round three, with Latics bowing out at the second-round stage for the fourth time in the six seasons since reaching final in 2006.

Only Ali Al Habsi, James McArthur, Adrian Lopez and Maynor Figueroa retained their places, meaning first starts for Albert Crusat, Shaun Maloney, Patrick van Aanholt and David Jones. There was a real new-look to the back four, with Van Aanholt and McArthur occupying the full-back roles and Maynor Figueroa filling in alongside Adrian Lopez at centre-back.

Despite the changes, Latics initially settled the quicker of the two sides, Maloney in particular looking very bright down the left-hand side and Jones dominating the midfield with his array of passing.

Palace, however, had the first sight of goal with just five minutes gone, Figueroa fouling Glen Murray on the edge of the area and Ambrose forcing a good save from Ali Al Habsi.

Jones shot just wide with Wigan’s first attempt on goal, before the home side took the lead midway through the first period.

They had already come close when Murray got the wrong side of Lopez only to fire wide of the upright, before Wilfried Zaha crossed for Ambrose to finish coolly from eight yards.

It was almost two within a minute as Ambrose again found himself with time and space, and only a great save from Al Habsi prevented Latics falling further behind.

The warning was not heeded, however, and Palace did double their lead on 29 minutes as McArthur’s clearing header only went as far as Williams, whose shot deflected in past a helpless Al Habsi.

The visitors looked shell-shocked, and it could have been much, much worse before the half-time whistle.

Twice Peter Ramage crossed from the right, and twice Murray headers threatened the Wigan goal.

The first one was well saved by Al Habsi, while the second one eluded the goalkeeper’s outstretched fingertips only to bounce back off the right-hand post.

Rather than be content to sit back on their lead, Palace came out for the second half with the same drive and determination as they had shown in the first.

A dangerous Ambrose free-kick had to be helped behind by Lopez and, from the resulting set-piece, from the same player, Patrick McCarthy headed just wide of the target.

At the other end, Van Aanholt saw a cross ricochet across the area, with Jones firing in an effort that was scrambled away by the home defence.

James McCarthy – on his return to the side – then volleyed inches wide of the target as Latics turned the screw, but Lewis Price in the Palace goal was still enjoying a relatively untroubled evening.

Martinez threw on Callum McManaman and Watson for the final quarter, the latter receiving a decent ovation on his former stomping ground, with Hendry Thomas and Crusat making way.

And Wigan looked more of an attacking threat after the changes, McManaman in particular eager for work and asking questions of the defence.

With time running out, Maloney weaved back into trouble as he looked for an opening inside the area, before McCarthy shot straight at Price from 20 yards.

Maloney came close again with a free-kick that curled inches over the bar, the Scot then heading straight at Price from close range.

Nouha Dicko replaced McArthur with five minutes remaining, but Latics knew it wasn’t going to be their day when Van Aanholt’s swerving shot from distance beat Price all ends up only to bounce back off the crossbar and away to safety.

McManaman saw an effort tipped over by Price in the dying seconds before Watson’s late lifeline – which unfortunately proved to be too little, too late.