The phrase that generally comes to mind for the opening game of a new campaign is ‘start as you mean to go on’, and by goodness I think we certainly did that this afternoon.
Granted, Villa weren’t at their fluent best, and seemed a long way from the team that put four past Steve Bruce’s men last season. But, as they say, you can only beat what’s put before you, and Wigan did so in fairly emphatic style.
The media gave Wigan absolutely no chance, with all but a couple of so-called ‘pundits’ that like to see themselves as ‘thinking outside the box’ predicting a win, if not a complete walkover, for Aston Villa. On the basis of competitive action, these were justified: on last season’s form, there would only ever be one winner. This isn’t last season, though, and the Villains, for the most part, weren’t quite at the game.
Likewise, John Carew, buoyed by a cracking midweek performance as Norway eased past Scotland, played no part due to an injury in the warm-up. On a different day, and with a bit more luck, he may perhaps have inspired Aston Villa to their expected win over the Latics.
As it transpired, there was the feeling that Little Wigan were underestimated somewhat: by the match commentators, the papers and by Villa themselves. After a period of first half jostling, Latics managed to gain the upper hand, striking the post and hitting wide in a series of promising forward moves.
Moments later, an opportunistic outside-the-area volley from Hugo Rodallega produced one of those magical moments that had people screaming ‘goal of the season’ before the first round of matches was even over. The goalie had no chance, and could only watch the ball fly past his outstretched hand into the top corner of the Villa net. It could have been two very soon after if Brad Friedel hadn’t been alert to Rodders’ one-on-one opportunity, but the Latics still went into half time in the ascendency.
Villa emerged for the second half on a mission, and promptly caused the Latics defence a bit of trouble. Wigan were relatively quick to counter, however, as on 56 minutes a speedy break led to a Jason Koumas strike through the Villa goalkeeper’s legs.
A promising Latics frontline could have gone on to make it three, but instead settled into a passing game to retain some possession and wear down the Villa side. As for those expected defensive hiccups, well, they resurfaced when the otherwise admirable Titus Bramble left a pass too short for Chris Kirkland with just minutes to go. Titus managed to save his bacon, though, rushing back to make a timely deflection over the Latics bar to keep Kirky’s clean sheet intact.
So, a successful competitive debut for Roberto Martinez. There are tougher tests to come in the next eight weeks, with Tuesday’s match against Wolves followed by Man United and Everton, then West Ham, Arsenal and Chelsea next month, so I would hazard a guess these three points may be pretty important in the grand scheme of things. Let’s hope they will give us a springboard with which to aim for a European spot come May.