No one saw this coming.
Sure, Wigan had already begun its traditional late-season surge. But Newcastle United entered Saturday's match at the DW Stadium on the back of six straight wins and with dreams of Champions League football spurring them on.
A 4-0 demolition at the hands of the Latics has put a slight dent in those hopes, even though Newcastle still began Sunday in fourth place (a Spurs win over Blackburn would change that). Any chance of overtaking Arsenal for third - as unlikely as that may have been - looks gone, though.
This defeat wasn't about team selection, formation or tactics. Wigan was just better. It dictated play, connected passes and simply outworked Newcastle. The passing numbers made for ugly reading from a United perspective. Wigan completed 444 of 510 passes, a whopping 87 percent success rate that speaks to how lackadaisically Newcastle defended as a team. United completed 322 of 387 (83 percent), but didn't find its passing rhythm until after the outcome had been decided.
Newcastle's late flurry of scoring opportunities made the final chances created tally - 8-7 in favor of Wigan - look respectable. The key difference was the quality of Wigan's chances - the only stunner of their four goals was Franco Di Santo's inventive chip.
Some fans ripped Alan Pardew for switching to a 3-4-3 alignment after Victor Moses gave Wigan a 2-0 lead. It's hard to argue that any formation change would have made a difference at that point, but Pardew's decision had sound reasoning. Wigan's use of the flanks was causing Newcastle problems, so moving Davide Santon to the right and having he and Jonas Gutierrez operate as wingbacks should have reinforced United's exterior and allowed it to match up with Wigan. It didn't really matter. Nor would have changing to a 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or any other formation you can dream up.
That's mainly because Wigan's movement was remarkable, with Di Santo, Moses and the reborn Shaun Maloney doing to United what Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa have done to opponents of late. We can only hope Pardew noted Moses' performance, considering he will have a year left on his contract this summer. Maynor Figueroa, playing on the left of Wigan's back three, was another standout and repeatedly got forward (his 91 touches were bested only by central midfielder James McArthur) to combine with left wingback Jean Beausejour.
While Wigan worked the ball, Newcastle was impatient in possession early on. Too often players opted for balls over the top, which allowed Wigan to establish control of the game. I can't help but wonder what might have happened had Newcastle patiently knocked the ball around in the opening 20 minutes.
Instead, United produced one of its worst performances of the season, made all the more aggravating by the timing. In reality, Newcastle was probably due a stinker after six straight wins. If the club was at the point where Champions League qualification was an expectation, then that sort of thinking wouldn't be acceptable. But it's not. Considering Newcastle still has a shot with three games to go, it's hard to be too angry - even after a stinker.