Isn’t it funny how one heavy loss –which, I must reiterate, was largely expected– can change the mood at a club to such an extent? Well, I say ‘club’ when I mean ‘the fans’, because after the shenanigans of last week, Roberto remained as philosophical as ever. Should we expect anything else? The guy’s a true professional, certainly cut out for the highest level even if his team isn’t playing that way right now. Might be a few years before we see Bob make some progress in the Premier League (or even elsewhere in Europe, probably his Spanish homeland), but it feels like we’re the guinea pigs right now.
Forget that feeling of helplessness for the moment, for in much the same way one loss can make us all so horribly pessimistic we wouldn’t be out of place at a Coldplay concert (two Coldplay digs in two weeks! I believe that’s a JWAW record), it only takes one big performance –and by that I mean a win— for a whole different perspective to be cast upon our season. One result on its own wouldn’t keep us up, but the confidence it could instil would stand us in good stead for the proverbial mountain we have yet to climb.
And yes, I would call it a mountain. The main problem is that there are teams better set for survival than the vulnerable tactics we’re locked into for the remainder of the season – namely they have guys that can score goals and are set up to do so. They have forward-thinking players used to occupying the traditional scoring outlets and favour goals over performances. In our favour, we’re now all but back to full strength and, thanks to that Clattenburg fellow (thank goodness he was so scared to brandish his cards), were free of suspension worries for today’s game – we were gonna need everyone and more for this.
Sadly, it emerged that Charles N’Zogbia could only make the substitute bench, resulting in a slightly different starting lineup to last week. Cleverley, ineligible for the clash with United, was the like-for-like replacement, filling in on the right wing. Steve Gohouri was dropped (to many cheers, no doubt) in favour of Adrian Lopez, and he had a pretty good game. In fact, the defensive line did alright as a whole and came forward to some effect when required.
Speculation had been growing since Conor Sammon‘s omission from the reserve side in midweek over whether the Dubliner would make his Latics début this weekend. Franco di Santo, well he’s alright at what he does, but it sadly doesn’t involve scoring goals. Hugo Rodallega is great, but doesn’t see himself as your bog standard out-and-out attacker – you can just tell he wants to be a left midfielder.
What we’ve missed for so long is a proper attacker with a knowledge of where the net is (if you’ll excuse the unintentional pun), and Sammon could just fit into that role. It might seem like I’m clutching at straws, but we’re unfortunately at that stage now, which is why I, and many others, have been itching for someone like he or Callum McManaman to be given a chance. Let’s put it this way: he’ll never score on the bench, and now’s as good a time as any. I can understand why Bob’s reluctant –he likes to slowly bed his players into the side– but I’m of the view that it’s better to take a punt this weekend than when we’re consigned to relegation. Not to give anything away (though you probably know too well the outcome of this game by now), but take that punt Roberto did, handing Sammon a late substitute appearance. Did it all come too late?
It’s fair to say the home side bossed the first half, though Latics weren’t without their periods of pressure. Their best two chances came via a Rodallega header and, in what could have been a pivotal moment, a McCarthy left footer blazed wide. Had he hit the target, it would surely have left Joe Hart with no chance. City finished the half the stronger, and bolstered this dominance with a 38th minute goal courtesy David Silva. Or, should I say Al Habsi, who forgot to wash his hands after buttering some toast prior to the game. Yes, did you know toast is a delicacy in Oman? Neither did I, because I just made that up. Whatever the case, the Latics keeper spilled the Spaniard’s shot to gift City the lead. There was an ever so slight deflection off the foot of Caldwell, but you’d have still expected a goalie of Habsi’s quality to pouch it.
The second half was a completely different story. Wigan controlled the game, passing well, intercepting their hosts with relative ease and having the best of the opportunities. Far from being outplayed as they were last week, the visitors enjoyed plenty of possession and, on balance, ought to have got something from the game. Unfortunately, the lack of a goalscorer was made all to evident once again, the difference between one –perhaps even three (and not even the most hardened of City fans would say it wouldn’t have been deserved)– points this evening.
The introduction of Charles N’Zobgia (so is he injured or not then?) after 60 minutes did wonders for our prospects and injected some pace and threat into proceedings. By the 80th minute, though, this had began to die out as City closed on a nervy but seemingly inevitable win. Noticing that things had become flat in the attacking department, Martinez subbed Diame –who had been very good for 70 minutes but became very sloppy– with Conor Sammon to give the Irishman his Latics debut. It almost proved a masterstroke, a punt that so nearly paid off.
In the 93rd minute of the game, after a nice little passing movement with Rodallega, Sammon found himself through on goal for what would surely have been the equaliser at this late stage. The Dubliner did well to muscle off Lescott and got away his shot. As the ball rolled towards the corner of the net you’d have been forgiven for thinking this to be a rare moment of justice in an increasingly depressing season, but agonisingly, it bobbled just inches wide. The whole incident almost played out in slow motion as Sammon reeled away, head in hands, so close to achieving what would have been a dream start to his Wigan career, erasing the memory of Mauro Boselli in one fell swoop. It’s moments like this that make you wonder whether we’re destined for the Championship, whether the powers that be ever intended for Little Wigan to be punching so far above their weight for so long.
This, as you can imagine, is very hard to swallow for anyone remotely associated with Wigan Athletic. What with teams around us getting favourable results, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that our fantastic time in England’s top flight is all but up. Latics remain rooted to the bottom of the table, devoid of a man who can physically force the ball to cross the opposition goal line.
Except maybe not. Maybe Sammon should have been given more of an opportunity – surely this would have been a better setup, to try something new? Sammon could well be the man, but we may never know. I’d be tempted to start him against Birmingham two weeks from now, but it remains to be seen whether Bob thinks the same way.