Wilson Palacios, whom Wigan’s manager, Steve Bruce, signed for his former club Birmingham City on Wenger’s recommendation earlier in the campaign, turned in a masterful performance, one all the more praiseworthy given that his 15-year-old brother Edwin has been held by kidnappers in his native Honduras since October.
“His brother is still there, kidnapped, locked up,” said Bruce. “He is still captive. It apparently happens quite often in Honduras but the family are in contact with him and the one thing they are is tough. We hope that can be resolved quickly, but it shows you everything about the kid that he can still produce a performance like the one he had against City. It is a delight to work with people like him.
“I was at Birmingham and I was looking for a central midfielder and I was trying to sign one of Arsène Wenger’s players. He phoned back and said he had a player who had been with him for five days and said this player had something, so he put him on a train and we picked him up.
“I was just amazed that Birmingham didn’t take up the option to sign him permanently after I left. He was close to going back to Honduras and nearly on the plane because Birmingham hadn’t taken up the option to make it permanent.
“I gave him eight games at Birmingham and he made his debut at Liverpool but we then obviously had to give him a bit of time with what happened to his brother. But Birmingham then decided to sell him so I spent what is probably the best million euros I’ve ever spent to sign him. Especially on that performance because he is one hell of a player.”
In a game of precious few chances it was unfortunate for Bruce, therefore, that Palacios’ only notable error came in the 81st minute when he struck Emile Heskey’s square pass straight at the goalkeeper Joe Hart and volleyed the rebound high and wide. A late winner would have been deserved for a Wigan team who played with two solid banks of four players and dared City to break them down – a challenge that City lacked the guile or determination to overcome.
A run of three victories in the past 11 games – featuring seven goals in the past 10 matches – has seen City slip down the Premier League table and suggests their manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, will be paying keen attention to his owner Thaksin Shinawatra’s current attempts in Thai courts to clear his name of corruption charges and free £800m in frozen assets.
Publicly, however, the City manager is blaming simple fatigue for his team’s recent swoon. “I think we felt that straight after Christmas and the new year we were a little bit low mentally, but that is maybe my fault,” he said. “I should have given the players some days off now and then, but I didn’t do it and I have learned what to do next season at Christmas time. Sometimes players need a break mentally, but I think we are OK physically. We just need the luck to score a goal.”
Robert Warner at the City of Manchester Stadium