I know I say this pretty much every time Latics play on a day other than Saturday, but it just feels weird. All the weekend’s footballing drama is normally washed away by our return to the daily grind at 8AM on Monday morning, and the whole day is ordinarily something of a sedate affair. The last thing I expect to see is more frantic Premier League action when I return from work, but once or twice a year we get these anomalies, these freaks of nature. Last night could have been unusual in more ways than one – there was a possibility that champions elect Manchester City could drop points at bottom-of-the-table Wigan, and the little guys certainly gave Mancini’s Fantasticos a run for their (no doubt Balotelli-donated) Monday roast.
Latics rode their luck and did just about enough in that second half to warrant a more even result. In the end, however, Antolin Alcaraz’s needless challenge on the left of defence led to a Dzeko goal that ultimately decided the contest. Wigan came back strong, increasing in confidence as the game progressed, but just didn’t have that extra bit of quality up front. Though City had their chances, really good ones at that, they consistently failed to double their lead and Latics were always in with an excellent chance of at least a point. Certainly by the final fifteen minutes, the visitors opted to go defensive and always left themselves open to that equaliser and, of course, a potential winning goal from Latics.
The problem was getting that goal, and Wigan just couldn’t do it. Guess that’s why we’re still rooted to the bottom of the table – harsh but fair, I’d say. Perhaps the best chance fell to James McCarthy, who benefited from Hugo Rodallega’s willingness to chase lost causes, but saw his shot blocked by Joe Hart. Had that hit the net, Wigan would have smelled more than just a drop of blood and that shock of all shocks would have still been possible. At the very least, we’d certainly have been in for a very interesting 20 minutes or so. That was it for clear-cut chances, however, and though Latics were a side revitalised in the second stanza, those shots on target deserted them once more.
Make no mistake, City had the quality to win by a greater margin. Through bad luck, bad judgement and some excellent saves from an on-form Al Habsi, they had just as much trouble breaching the Wigan goal line as the hosts did the opposition penalty area. The Citizens (do they mind being called that?) were well on top in the first half, and controlled the vast majority of it despite one or two pot shots from an eager Latics boasting the pacey Crusat and Moses. After the 60 minute mark, there was a clear shift from front to back as the visitors gave Wigan more room to breathe, potentially allowing their hosts a glimmer of an opportunity. When that luck is deserting you, as it has for City of late, this sort of thing is prone to happen and you sensed that equaliser was getting closer and closer as the minutes ticked by.
Ultimately, though Wigan had improved demonstrably in the final half hour, that same old problem of goalscoring reared its ugly head again. Not even a switch to 3-5-3 and later 4-2-4 in the final stages could yield many real opportunities beyond the odd Rodallega steal. City remained strong in defence and did what Liverpool and Chelsea couldn’t – beat Wigan at the DW Stadium. For Latics’ part, they certainly weren’t outclassed or outplayed but are still missing that final piece of the (Rodal)lego brick house and tonight it was nearer the top than the bottom. I hope you understand what I mean by that, because I don’t think I do.
On a more contentious note, perhaps the most talked about incident of the evening was a deliberate handball by Maynor Figueroa in the dying stages. Camping out on the halfway line as his side pushed forward, he momentarily panicked when he realised Sergio Aguero would probably be through on goal and palmed the ball away in blatant fashion. I’ll be the first to admit referee Atkinson was just a tad lenient in this case, and probably should have awarded the Honduran a straight red card. You could tell he wouldn’t, of course, and would not be bullied into changing his mind as certain referees undoubtedly would (not to name any names). This may be a biased opinion, but for staying strong and above all fair, his below average performance is somewhat forgiven. And that statement has nothing to do with the fact we need Maynor for our next game on Saturday, oooh no.
Speaking of this weekend, I was going to dedicate the final part of this post to previewing the weekend’s six-pointer with Mark Hughes’ QPR, but there is a more worthy cause.
All our perceived toils pale in significance to the recent unthinkable plight of Darlington Football Club, who were yesterday forced to sack their remaining playing staff. Win or lose, we are lucky enough to be in existence to this day, but The Quakers may disappear before Saturday even arrives. Darlington fans can take heart, however, from recent Phoenix Clubs such as Chester, Rushden & Diamonds and Rossendale who are now beginning to make some headway in the English football pyramid. The town of Wigan lost its last Football League club to The Great Depression but came back strong, albeit some three or four decades later. Granted, all but the eldest of Wigan football fans will know what it feels like for your beloved club to become extinct, but we wholeheartedly sympathise with your situation. Fingers crossed.