Hugo the hero as Latics stay up

Hugo Rodallega celebrates his goal and (below) the fans celebrate
Hugo Rodallega celebrates his goal and (below) the fans celebrate

A BACKS-to-the-wall display and a dramatic late winner from Hugo Rodallega saw Wigan Athletic extend their Premier League adventure into a magnificent seventh season.

In the end, a draw would have done it for Latics as results elsewhere went their way.

Stoke City v Wigan Athletic: Fans celebrtate Hugo Rodallega's goal

Stoke City v Wigan Athletic: Fans celebrtate Hugo Rodallega's goal

But Rodallega’s goal was the icing on the cake as Roberto Martinez saw his side come up with back-to-back wins for the first time in his two-year stewardship.

The Wigan boss has been adamant for weeks now that his side would eventually get their rewards that their quality deserved.

And with 12 minutes of the campaign remaining, on a rare break into Stoke territory, Maynor Figueroa crossed from the left and Rodallega planted a header past Asmir Begovic to send the away fans into raptures.

The real heroes of the win, however, were the back four and Ali Al Habsi, who stood up to everything thrown at them by a Stoke side who had little to play for but who certainly did not go through the motions.

Martinez had sprung a major selection surprise before the game, bringing in Conor Sammon for his first start in place of Tom Cleverley, with Rodallega dropping out to the left-hand side.

Although the introduction of Sammon helped swing last week’s encounter against West Ham, it was expected he’d again be on the bench.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis named a virtual full-strength side, with Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington starting on the flanks, although Robert Huth failed a late fitness test.

Not surprisingly, with so much at stake, Wigan looked edgy in the opening exchanges, Antolin Alcaraz leaving one backpass to Al Habsi a little short, while a lack of control from Rodallega ruined a potentially promising opening after a good crossfield ball from Figueroa.

Momo Diame engineered a decent opportunity for himself on eight minutes, but his shot from 30 yards was well wide of the mark.

The ball was in the Wigan net a couple of minutes later, when Rory Delap’s long throw was headed goalwards by Kenwyne Jones and finished off by Jon Walters.

Thankfully the linesman’s flag saved Latics, Walters being well offside when he applied the finishing touch.

Stoke came close again on 14 minutes when another long throw from Delap, this time from the right, caused more havoc, resulting in Jones volleying goalwards.

With Al Habsi beaten, Emmerson Boyce saved his side with a super goal-line clearance to keep it scoreless.

Latics were lucky again moments later when slack play from Alcaraz and Figueroa allowed Stoke some easy field position, and the Paraguayan inexplicably threw his hand up to flick the ball away when it was played over his head towards Jones.

Andre Marriner had a big call to make, and elected to brandish yellow when some referees might have shown red, Alcaraz definitely getting out of jail on this occasion.

Jones tested Al Habsi again at the midway point of the half, before Latics had their first real sight of goal just as the sun came out.

James McCarthy pulled the trigger with his right foot, but the ball struck the head of centre-back Danny Collins and away to safety.

It was a rare excursion into the Stoke half, though, as the Potters quickly regained the ascendancy they had enjoyed for the vast majority of the first half.

Pennant was the next to warm Al Habsi’s hands from 25 yards, with Alcaraz clearing as Jones sniffed for a rebound, and Latics were probably grateful to get to the break on level terms.

Martinez resisted the temptation to make a change at the interval, and Latics showed more in the first minute of the second stanza than they had in the opening half.

Diame got free down the left and, after Rodallega had seen a shot blocked, the ball rebounded to the Senegal international, whose shot was tipped wide by Asmir Begovic – although the flag was up in any case.

Diame released Rodallega a couple of minutes later, only for the Colombian’s shot to strike Andy Wilkinson and away.

Another break, started by Watson, saw N’Zogbia get round Pennant and appear to be clipped by the Stoke winger inside the penalty area.

But N’Zogbia elected to stay on his feet and his cross was cut out by Wilkinson.

With Cleverley stripped in the technical area and ready to come on, Sammon worked a shooting chance for himself 20 yards from goal.

His left-foot shot had power but was straight at Begovic – nevertheless it was the first time the goalkeeper had been called into the action.

Moments later, Sammon was in the thick of it for the wrong reasons, the striker inadvertently getting in the way of a shot from Watson that looked to be goalbound.

That was Sammon’s last involvement, Martinez withdrawing the striker and sending Cleverley on for the final quarter. And the on-loan Manchester United man was quickly into the game, taking a nice ball from N’Zogbia in his stride and forcing Begovic to make a superb block from point-blank range.

Stoke made a couple of changes, Etherington and Jones coming off for John Carew and Dean Whitehead, but Wigan were coming into it more and more as the Potters visibly tired.

And the visitors grabbed a crucial opening goal on 78 minutes, to the delight of the 1,400 away supporters behind Begovic’s goal. Figueroa was sent down the left wing by Watson, and he rounded Wilkinson with a lovely drop of the shoulder.

The Honduran then bided his time before producing an inch-perfect cross that was headed into the roof of the net by Rodallega from six yards.

The remainder of the game – plus five added minutes – were the epitome of backs-to-the-wall defending.

But despite wave after wave of balls being launched into the visitors’ box, this was to be Wigan’s day.

Stoke (0) 0 Wigan (0) 1

Stoke Begovic, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Collins, Wilson, Pennant,Whelan, Delap, Etherington (Whitehead 72), Jones (Carew 78),Walters.

Subs Not Used: Nash, Pugh, Diao, Tonge, Shotton.

Booked: Etherington.

Wigan Al Habsi, Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Alcaraz, Figueroa,Diame, McCarthy, N’Zogbia (Moses 90), Watson,Sammon (Cleverley 67), Rodallega (Di Santo 86).

Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Gomez, McArthur, Lopez.

Booked: Alcaraz, McCarthy, Figueroa, Boyce.

Goals: Rodallega 78.

Att: 27,566

Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands).