Vincent Kompany was appointed captain as Tevez struggled
In my own football supporting life, I have witnessed Manchester City, historically one of the big players in British football, fall from grace only to rather spectacularly clamber their way back to the toppermost heights, with the promise of more to come. It’s been a quite remarkable transformation that one can draw some parallels with Wigan’s own rise to prominence. Not quite to the extent of City, but a noteworthy achievement nevertheless, and that divisional ascent can be regarded of something of a shared experience.
In some ways, not much has changed. Last year, I wrote about the ‘Special Relationship‘ Wigan and Man City share. I noted that the first meeting between a Wigan football team and today’s Mancunian opponents occurred over a century ago, when Wigan County only just lost 1-0 to City in an FA Cup First Round match. It goes to show that the history of encounters between the towns is longer than one may care to think, and one perhaps befitting of the clubs’ geographic locations. After all, we’re practically neighbours –it can take less than an hour to get to East Central Manchester from Wigan Wallgate– and it’s not a good idea to go poking around with the Rottweilers next door.
With Man City back in the ascendency and regarded as many people’s favourites for the 2011-12 Premier League, Wigan faced something of an ominous task. City’s squad(s) of superstars were wholly expected to hammer little Wigan into a soft, malleable substance ripe for a good kicking over the Ship Canal and back to the slums of urban Wigan. “You’re a disgrace to the Metropolitan County,” they would bellow while simultaneously balancing three footballs upon their tremendously-skilled heads and taking a great (brightly-coloured, hand-made) boot to what once claimed to be a football club.
The effect of two weeks’ international duties was sure to add some spice to the contest, with players from both teams indulging in a spot of globe-trotting to participate in games as far afield as South America. Jet-lag or no jet-lag, City were humongous favourites, but there was, as always, that nagging thought that Wigan might upset the (fearsome and exceedingly expensive) juggernaut in some manner. That’s exactly what Martinez and his band of merry international gate-crashers set out to do, and they certainly gave it a go at the City of Ma- erm, Etihad Stadium. Phew, think I got away with that one.
Enough pandering to the big boys – what is this, a tabloid newspaper? Let’s get the Latics bias into full swing.
For all Manchester City’s dominance in the first 35 minutes or so, they only managed a solitary 13th minute goal. Considering 16+ shots rained in on the Latics goalmouth during the first stanza, 1-0 was a fantastic scoreline for the visitors, and amazingly, it could have been even better.
Al Habsi did very well under hectic circumstances, pulling off a few good saves
There was some evidence that Latics’ passing/attacking strategy might begin to bear some fruit, and though they only managed the single shot on target, they were able to produce some decent spells of the possession in the opposition half. That is, after the first half hour, when the game could easily have moved further away from Wigan than Paul Merson from a dictionary. It didn’t though, and Merse still struggles to describe Wigan as anything other than ‘a bit bad’.
Carlos Tevez squandered a penalty after Adrian Lopez tripped David Silva in his own area, big Ali Al-Habsi diving well to his right to prevent the Argentinian’s spot kick from finding the net. Under extreme pressure, Latics did not crack and were still in the contest, only just. Lopez blew a deep sigh of relief and it was back to work for the Latics defence. Boy, were they made to work.
Once they saw through that initial, extended period of mass pressure, during which time City hit the woodwork about six times and came close on almost twice as many occasions, Wigan did their best to fight back. Half chances came, offering some hope that this contest was in no way over just yet. Victor Moses was the leading light of this resurgence, with Di Santo and Rodallega also playing their part with a selection of (sometimes ambitious) efforts. Some physical play led to a period in which the visitors actually started to boss the midfield, and Wigan finished the half in the ascendancy. Of course, that defensive uncertainty remained, but then I suppose that is to be expected against a team of such quality as Manchester City.
We await the inevitable Moses goal explosion – it’s only a matter of time
Wigan continued this rebuilding process into the second half, and actually emerged looking the better side. Victor Moses continued to question the City defence and the passes flowed well. The only thing missing was a goal, which Hugo Rodallega was unlucky not to have got as Joe Hart somehow fumbled the Colombian’s shot past his right hand post. Who played the feed ball? That’s right, it was Our Victor.
This was the visitors’ last real opportunity before the game was over as a contest, Sergio Aguero completing a superb hat-trick before 70 minutes were on the clock. He was withdrawn soon after, and Latics were left wondering how much different the scoreline might have been without the Argentine among City’s ranks. The answer? Well, we probably would still have lost, but only just.
Sensing a chance to experiment, Martinez withdrew Di Santo and Watson, bringing on Jordi Gomez and newcomer Albert Crusat to replace them. Though he was often muscled off the ball with great ease, the Pocket Rocket, as I shall henceforth call him (maybe), made some headway by picking the odd superb pass in some smooth Latics attacking moves. There’s still no real firepower in front of goal, but then Wigan historically have problems scoring against the better teams away from home. On that basis, 5 shots on target –precisely half the total accrued by the home side– represented a decent effort against the Champions elect.
Hugo Rodallega will get better
Man City continued to trouble Wigan up until the final whistle, Johnson forcing Al Habsi into a half decent save and curving another shot just past the Omani’s right hand post. Aguero remained the only goalscorer on the afternoon, though, as the game passed itself to a sombre, sedate finish. On 70 minutes, Latics would certainly have settled for that.
On the whole, Wigan gave a very good impression of themselves and could have come away from the City of Etihad stadium (what, isn’t that what it’s called?) with a goal – something not many teams will be able to say they achieved this season, methinks. The attacking play was promising and far better than many, including myself, expected. At the back, well, that’s better left unsaid, for in the end it was all about Man City, at least according to the press. In actuality, Latics were definitely a part of this contest, and certainly no disgrace. Just remember that as you read through reams of lovingly-crafted (?!) prose about Sergio Aguero and Man City in tomorrow’s newspapers.
Yes, Latics’ winning run has come to an end, but I feel there is much more to come yet. You’d be silly not to watch this space, for there are two more games to come in the space of seven days. I sense some success, even if Roberto Martinez is far from happy with today’s performance. Well, I guess we did lose 3-0…