Until Sunday, striker Callum McManaman, 21, had never started a game for Wigan before despite being on the Premier League club’s roster since 2008.
McManaman finally got his break when he was named in Roberto Martinez’s team for a vitally important game that could help determine whether or not Wigan will play a ninth consecutive season in the top tier. No doubt, he was keen to make an impression, especially considering he’s never scored for his club.
Instead, he will wake up today seeing his name and photo on the back pages of English newspapers for all the wrong reasons.
In the 25th minute, McManaman launched himself at Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara, driving the studs of his right boot into the left knee of the young French defender. You would have to be acting charitably to say it was an attempted tackle. Referee Mark Halsey deemed the incident a legitimate challenge. Every replay suggested it wasn’t just a horrendous foul; it was a straight red card.
So what’s the worst part of all this? Is it the tackle itself? It certainly was unforgivably reckless, whether or not the Englishman was attempting to win the ball. If Haidara has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligaments, that’s a minimum of six months out of the game.
Or was it the failure of Halsey to call the decision correctly? Halsey put in an appalling performance when refereeing Liverpool v Manchester United back in September – and he compounded his initial error in this game by failing to see Maynor Figueroa’s hand-ball assist for Arouna Kone's last-minute winner.
Newcastle fans must have left the DW Stadium as sick as a pack of dogs, and perhaps when they got home their mood would have sunk further when they heard Martinez saying: “It is a contact sport and these things happen but there was never any intent.
"I can guarantee that it is part of his enthusiasm and trying to fight for every ball. Maybe it's just a striker's tackle.”
Maybe those words of Martinez, who I have always regarded as one of the most intelligent and skilful of all the Premier League managers, are the worst part of this sorry little episode.
He should either refuse to discuss the issue in detail or attempt something approaching honesty. What he has said legitimises this kind of “enthusiasm” from anyone else in his squad, and that’s an exceptionally dangerous road to be travelling on.
In another part of his interview after the game, Martinez spoke of how his side had endured some bad luck for much of the season. Perhaps that’s true, but please – no more complaints.
Wigan’s win gives them a decent chance of Premier League survival once again. It looks now like the final relegation spot will be between them, Aston Villa, Southampton and Sunderland. Reading and QPR are surely destined for the second tier now.
Southampton, incidentally, did their cause plenty of good with an impressive 3-1 win over Liverpool which underlined the tactical skills of new boss Mauricio Pochettino.
Meanwhile, the combination of a win tinged with good fortune for Manchester United and City’s loss away at Everton left Sir Alex Ferguson’s men with a 15-point lead at the top, easing ever closer to the record 18-point gap they set in 2000.
That was the season when Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole ran riot against some shell-shocked opponents. The overall quality of the Premier League has improved greatly since then, so it’s a surprise that old record is in touch – or maybe Ferguson is even more brilliant than we thought.
Finally, a word on Tottenham, who crashed to a third successive defeat in all competitions when losing a London derby at home to Fulham. After a very good run of form, this should not be viewed as a crisis, and barring a calamitous conclusion to the season they will still finish in the top four.
However, given how exhausted the players looked on Sunday, it’s no wonder that the Europa League, in which Spurs are playing an active part, is viewed so unfavourably in England.
Updated Date: Mar 18, 2013 10:12 AM