I swear I’ll never fully understand the mainstream media as long as I live. Prior to last week’s clash with Liverpool, every big time Charlie and rag tag red top was writing us off before a ball had been kicked. What happened? They ended up with egg on their faces as, by some fluke, Wigan managed to battle to a point. This time round, to cover their backs, they erred on the side of caution just in case we saw a repeat performance. They just can’t seem to find a balance, though; last week Latics were criminally underrated, whilst this time round we were vastly overrated.
Not that anybody at the club would have been in danger of becoming in any way complacent – this was Manchester United, after all, top o’ the shop and everyone’s tip for the Alex Ferguson Cup. Well, it ought to have his blasted name on it the number of times he’s had the thing in his living room. I can just see his wife on trophy presentation day shouting at the television, “no, don’t be rough with it! I spent three months polishing and waxing it!”
We, by contrast, are firm favourites for the drop because, of course, we’re Little Wigan with no fans and a poor manager. Yep, outside of Greater Manchester… nay, Wigan Borough, nay Springfield, nobody gives a fig. Whilst this is subjective and depends entirely on your viewpoint, looking at the foot of the table and our forthcoming fixtures I’m inclined to side with them. About relegation, mind, not those clichéd, stereotypical (mainstream media driven) views of Wigan Athletic.
Ordinarily, things would be looking up – another couple of wins from our next three games and it’ll all be fine and dandy again with Martinez the best thing to happen to the club since they reduced the price of half time pies (don’t bother with those, buy a zinger burger from the stand on the Pagefield Industrial Estate instead). The only problem is that the next two matches were Man United and Man City. A walk in the park you might say, but only if you were being flippant or blind drunk.
As those fools from Coldplay (not half as good as the Verve, if you ask me) spouted more than once, nobody ever said it was gonna be easy. Or was that the Inspiral Carpets? Whoever, it’s a mantra that rings true for our, and indeed many other teams’, situations. If you wanna stay in this league, you’re gonna have to mix it with the big boys and come away with something more than pride or fractured cheekbones. In the past months, we’ve seen Wolves beat Man U. Blackpool hammered Tottenham in midweek. Now it was Wigan’s turn to pull sommat other than Value brand lard out of the Tesco carrier bag.
For twenty minutes, it seemed the lofty status of ‘competitors’ banded about by the pre-match press –who only seem to pipe up and scrabble for some stereotypical and not-very-well researched statistics when a team plays Man United– was more than justified. Indeed, Wigan dominated much of the first quarter and could have had a couple if it weren’t for Van Der Sar. Unfortunately Latics could not keep a clean sheet during this period, as Nani, by far and away the visitors’ best player in the first half, created an easy tap-in at the near post for Hernandez. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say this was against the run of play, and marked the moment United settled down to play a slow-paced keep ball with the old ‘what we have…’ mentality.
It was just after Man U’s goal, however, that Wigan created the best chance of the whole half, Charles N’Zogbia touching the ball on wonderfully for James McCarthy at the back post. Unfortunately, by this time Van Der Sar was so close to him it would have been more difficult to score than miss, which McCarthy duly did.
The visitors clawed back some possession, but showed Wigan a massive amount of respect in their constant backing off. If anything, this was more like a Wigan performance with the one man up front –Rooney played mostly in the midfield area– having little to feed off in terms of crosses. At their own end, they simply packed out the penalty area and switched to the old siege mentality as Latics won no less than seven corners. This was far from the Manchester United we are used to playing against.
Wigan went into the halftime break somewhat unlucky to be a goal behind, though it could have been worse had Nani’s strike rebounded off the inside of the post and into the net, or even the path of a waiting Hernandez, rather than clearing the goal line for a goal kick. This was all the visitors could muster attacking-wise, though, so you could be forgiven for thinking the home side were the ones challenging for the title. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad but on balance Latics were unfortunate not to have scored.
The second half? Well, United actually began to settle down and play some football, extinguishing all hope Wigan had of getting anything from the game. A combination of dodgy defending and nice attacking play from the visitors ensured this would be a day to forget for years to come. A pity, because it all started so well and we gave it a good go, but were we ever gonna beat Man United? Only on an off day, and this certainly wasn’t one of them.
There were some moments of promise, but they remained just that. Once Victor Moses, a major threat in the first half, went off, it was always a case of hit and hope for Latics, with the still goalless Di Santo finishing the game alongside an almost stranded Hugo Rodallega. Yep, he might as well have played in midfield today because he would have seen more of the ball; as it happened, he found himself sandwiched between three or four defenders every time the ball came his way. 4-4-2 didn’t fare much better, but I’m struggling to think of anything other than 5-4-0 that would have.
On the plus side, once we’ve played the best it can only get easier, can’t it? I mean, pfft, that Man City side collectively can’t even lace their Mancunian counterparts’ boots. They’ll have no chance next week! Best to prepare your Championship chants, just in case, though…