Shaun Maloney's Late Strike Showed How Important He Is for Wigan Athletic

Danny McCannContributor IApril 8, 2013

Maloney's late goal rescued a point for Latics
Maloney's late goal rescued a point for LaticsScott Heavey/Getty Images

Shaun Maloneys's last minute free-kick saved a point for Wigan Athletic, and at the same time broke the hearts of all Queen's Park Rangers fans.

QPR boss Harry Redknapp said to BBC Sport that the goal was the "cruelest last kick" he had experienced in football and it leaves the R's with only the slimmest chances of avoiding the drop.

As for Wigan, manager Roberto Martinez will see the draw (1-1) at Loftus Road as a missed opportunity to take all three points that would have moved them clear of the relegation zone.

After Bobby Zamora's red card midway through the first half, Latics had the majority of the match to break the retreating defense but failed to capitalize.

With few clear-cut chances created, set pieces looked the best bet for any side to score, and ironically, it was Wigan's free-kick that led to a breakaway attack that Loic Remy finished off with a stunning strike.

I thought Latics had blown it at that point, but they persisted and Maloney's almost last kick of the game salvaged what could turn out to be a vital point.

Martinez told BBC Sport that Maloney's goal "is as good as you're going to see; a real touch of magic."

In a previous article I alluded to the importance of Arouna Kone's goals, but Maloney is also one of Wigan's key players and his presence will be integral to the team in the remaining few fixtures.

The diminutive Scottish midfielder is arguably the one player Wigan possesses that can create that one bit of magic, be it a cutting through ball, a cute pass in the penalty box or as proved on his last outing, a wonderful free-kick under huge pressure.

Last season showed glimpses of his ability, especially in the amazing run they had towards the end.  Maloney scored a crucial winner against Manchester United and was also influential with his assists.

Maloney has chipped in five goals in the EPL this season (equal second best with striker Franco Di Santo) and his goals often prove to be crucial.

Although none of the Wigan team performed to their best against QPR in contrast to how they have played in their last three winning displays, Maloney was still able to produce one piece of magic.

Latics have seven league fixtures remaining, and along with Kone, Maloney will surely be one of the first names on Martinez's team sheets.

After Latics aim to reach the FA Cup Final by overcoming Millwall on April 13th, they return to the EPL against Manchester City a few days later with not many people fancying their chances of a win against the reigning champions.

Assuming that Latics remain at 31 points by the time they travel to Upton Park to face West Ham, Wigan will be relying heavily on the likes of Maloney and Kone to gain an important win in their quest to defy the odds once again.

Latics currently languish in the relegation zone in 18th position, but only on goal difference.  If they were to take anything from the Etihad (and stranger things have happened), they would leapfrog Sunderland.

With Newcastle's late winner at the weekend putting them at 36 points and nearing survival, Latics will be in a fight with the four teams directly above them: Sunderland, Aston Villa, Stoke and Norwich.

It looks as though OPR, along with Reading, are down and we could be looking at any one of five teams joining them. 

After two points dropped at QPR, do you think Wigan will fail in their latest amazing escape attempt?