With Latics’ survival sealed prior to this afternoon’s engagement, it only remained to be seen whether Hull would absolutely trounce them to carry a sliver of hope into the final week of the season.
Well, this didn’t happen and, if we’re being honest, wasn’t really likely to, but thanks to the antics of a certain Serbian, it may well have been. In terms of possession and control of the game, the visitors never really outplayed a Latics side missing N’Zogbia, Bramble, Kirkland, Moreno and Thomas. But stand-in keeper Vladimir Stojkovic, who looked very shaky in the Wigan goal, could be blamed for at least one of the goals the Tigers would claw from the very hands of Wigan’s backline; in truth, had Hull challenged the opposition goalmouth more often, things could have been far worse.
In the cold light of day, a draw against a pretty-much-relegated side also with their fair share of absentees –most notably a particular Londonite who can’t stand the North (just joking Jimmy)–, was an average result played out by, some might say, an average team. It certainly wasn’t a sparkling performance from the Latics, and had there been more weight on this game things would have been far past ‘squeaky bum time’ (for which I daren’t print an analogy) midway through the second half as Wigan somehow contrived to concede two goals.
There is a small excuse – and it is quite a small one – for the first: a slightly overzealous linesman flagging offside before changing his mind after the ball was nestling in the Wigan net, which he had every right to do. He was proven to be right in his error correction, but there’s no doubt it caused an element of confusion amongst Caldwell, Gohouri et al as for a moment Latics were guilty of playing to the whistle.
When the dust settled, it became clear that a couple of slightly dodgy decisions from Stojkovic were more to blame for the concession, which levelled the scores at 1-1 with just a few minutes to play in the first half. Firstly, the Serb chose to punch clear a shot when perhaps a tip round the post or even two-handed save looked relatively comfortable to pull off. I dunno, maybe the fact he’s lacking match practice and thus confidence was playing on his mind so he went for the safety first option, which in this case involved returning possession to Hull.
Secondly, from the resultant second bite of the cherry, we saw the trademark starjump which so famously gifted Carlos Tevez a goal just weeks ago. It might work in the Spanish leagues, but unfortunately for Stoj it hasn’t this season. Though he made up for this indiscretion with a couple of decent stabs away earlier in the piece, and he at least got a hand to the ball before it hit the net, I am far from convinced with the ‘punch at all costs’ technique he’s so fond of.
As someone (I think it might have been Les) so eloquently mentioned in the current edition of the Mudhutter Football Express, I would play a one-armed Mike Pollitt ahead of Vlad, my dislike for him has become so strong. You can just imagine the collective joy in the concourse when he was announced as starting the game – in fact there were some whispers we might already be doomed. They may have been a little bit extreme, but I think we can say he hasn’t exactly been a fan favourite since he arrived in Wigan. Once again, Latics fans can thank their stars this game wasn’t as vital as it could have been, relegation-wise.
But there was still a Premier League game to win, and a possible 14th place in the Premier League at stake for Wigan. Earlier, they had drawn first blood as Moses jinked in from the wings, passed three defenders and slid the ball in off Duke’s left hand post. It was a perfectly placed shot that would have troubled the best of keepers and gave Latics a just about deserved lead.
Minutes later, Victor ‘Du du du duh’ Moses (yeah, I think we need a new chant writer) had an almost equally wonderful, if not better opportunity to put the home side 2-0 ahead. The ball fell to him just eight yards from goal, and with nobody in the immediate vicinity he miskicked by a fraction. It was, however, enough to make him look a bit silly as he had just missed perhaps the best chance of the half. We’ll let him off, though, because the finish for his first Latics goal was so good.
As far as Hull were concerned, Kilbane had also gone close with a snorter which, if it hit the target, would certainly have caused the Wigan keeper some real problems. They weren’t without their own periods of pressure, but undoubtedly the Tigers’ best moment came on 42 minutes as Atkinson converted a Kilbane cross.
One apiece was the half time score, with Latics emerging the more dominant. This trend continued for the early part of the second stanza as Rodallega started to cause the Hull defence some real problems, but only emerged with a couple of speculative efforts for his troubles.
Somewhat predictably (on the evidence of this season, anyway), the inevitable Hull counter attack yielded a goal as soon as the ball was placed into a vaguely dangerous area. In fact, it wasn’t all that dangerous a ball yet it somehow found the North Stand net as the defence lay static and Cullen’s cross sailed into Stojkovic’s net. Whoops.
Suddenly, from a relatively comfortable situation, Wigan found themselves in the position of having to chase the game just as they had for the previous two weeks. Well, at least the ball is finding the onion bag now, and the luck which seemed to desert us throughout February is returning with a vengeance.
Just as the result looked settled, and with another disappointing defeat on the cards, up popped Steve Gohouri to overhead kick Wigan to a point and officially seal the visitors’ relegation from the Premier League. It would have been last gasp, if referee Phil Dowd hadn’t somehow found what seemed like a couple of minutes of extra added time from somewhere. But there really was no time for any more heroics, as the official timing of the goal was 93 minutes – the final minute of added time.
Stevie G’s close range scissor was a nice way to finish the season. Sure, we would have loved to win the game, but then that would be bordering on predictable, a word you couldn’t ever use to describe Wigan Athletic in the 2009/10 campaign. So we’d best enjoy it for what it is: another glimmer in a season peppered with dizzy heights and demoralising lows.
Just one game left to play now, and it’s the biggest of them all: champions elect Chelski Abramograd CF at the Stan Ford Bridge. As has been the case on numerous occasions this season, nobody expects us to get anything from that encounter. Manchester United fans need not order their consolation beer just yet, however, because the way things have gone this year we’ll most likely beat them 3-2.
Well, why not? Our last three games have been 3-2, 3-2 and 2-2, so maybe Little Wigan will have a say in the destination of the Premier League title. We couldn’t quite manage it against Man United a couple of seasons ago, but I’m sure we’ll put up a good fight and attempt to do it again.