Reminiscing upon this afternoon’s match, I was reminded of an October afternoon in 2005 when Wigan, having had a so-so game, grabbed a last-minute winner to dispatch Fulham 1-0 at the JJB Stadium. Pascal Chimbonda, sneaking in at the back post, stole all three points to head the Latics into dreamland with their seventh win in eight games unbeaten.
During the first half of that season, everything we touched seemed to turn to gold and thanks to that magical run Wigan were all but safe by Christmas. Though we can’t exactly say the same of this campaign, for me, there was certainly a hint of 2005 about this afternoon. Specifically, I’m talking about that little bit of luck to help us snatch those crucial wins that could ultimately keep us in the Premier League for a sixth successive season.
There aren’t many games Wigan could safely say are “three point bankers” this season, testament to our up-and-down, topsy turvy form; it’s been a mixture of very good (Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa away) and some absolutely dire stuff characterised by lacklustre defending and lack of real heart or even effort. Take Bolton last week for a prime example of this – Wigan were by no means outplayed, but once that second goal went in that, as they say, was that.
This particular encounter with another Lancashire (arch?) rival contained a combination of both the poorer stuff that’s seen us toiling in the bottom half of the league, which Latics exhibited for periods of the first half, and the excellent forward-thinking movement which, sadly for Latics, only began to materialise in the latter part of the second half.
But Wigan needed not worry, for the fourth official had magically found four minutes of stoppage time somewhere in the back of his pocket or something. It wasn’t as if either team was doing a lot of time-wasting as such, at least not in the second period, so perhaps the injuries and substitutions combined with the linesman stoking up a stogie somehow added up to a total of 240 seconds. I tend to think the officials decided to add an extra minute for Brian Jensen’s first-half bootlace tying at the end of the game. Trust me, I swear they do it all the time.
Edit: I completely forgot about a second half incident where Chris Kirkland was hit on the back of the head with a coin thrown by the Burnley fans, which would have accounted for at least a minute of the stoppage time. I guess crime doesn’t pay…
Whatever the case, that extra minute or two was just enough for Latics to snatch a late goal and therefore all three of those precious Premier League points. They were not earned without toil, though, for even though there were no threatening efforts on target from either team until the last ten minutes when the game really started to liven up, Burnley were always snapping at Latics’ heels. This was more evident in the second half, when the home side started to push upfield a bit more in search of the game’s opening –and perhaps ultimately winning– goal.
It all came to a head in those frantic twenty minutes at the end of the game. The Clarets went close through Paterson, who clipped the top of the crossbar with a sweet volley, and Nugent, who drew a fantastic save from keeper Chris Kirkland with but minutes remaining.
Latics, meanwhile, had finally found their shooting boots with some excellent mid-range efforts which drew athletic saves from Brian ‘The Beast’ Jensen (the best nickname in Premier League football). On every previous occasion, it was a case of failing to find the target in spectacular fashion as both McCarthy and Rodallega blasted their attempts into the South Stand.
In fact, outside that final ten minutes, the only time Wigan –or either team, for that matter– even came close to threatening was midway through the first half when Caldwell headed a McCarthy corner onto the frame of the goal. The rest of the first stanza is not really worth recounting, so let’s just say it was a bit scrappy and leave it at that.
Roberto resolved to shake up the Latics frontline with the introduction of Scotland (33 minutes) and Moses (74). James McCarthy looked lively just before Victor entered the fray, and continued to do so in his more central position now Moses had taken up the right wing area. He inherited it with aplomb, causing the Burnley defence the kind of problems Charles N’Zogbia might have had he been fit to play this afternoon.
At times, this changearound resulted in a 4-2-4 formation as Latics packed the box with all their available strikeforce; Moreno, Moses and Scotland all had a go but simply couldn’t produce that all-important goal. It was Hugo Rodallega who, on 93 minutes, rose unchallenged to head past Jensen and with but a minute remaining, that was the decider. Cue a mass expression of relief from the Latics faithful — thanks to a favourable result at Fratton Park, where Portsmouth had downed Hull by three goals to two, the gap to the dropzone is now extended to seven points with just seven games remaining.
You might say Burnley and their enthusiastic fans deserved more for their efforts, but like Wigan in recent times, there simply was not that goalscorer’s instinct or finishing touch on this occasion. Things are looking increasingly dire for The Clarets, but there is still time for a late surge that could see them ‘do a Fulham’ and perform an escape act of Houdini-esque proportions. Don’t rule it out just yet, you’d be foolish to predict anything at this stage. Except for the fact Portsmouth will be relegated – that’s a certainty… and please don’t quote me on that.