No, I will not do it. I won’t mention you know what again, even though that’s pretty much all I could think about going into this afternoon’s game. And would you like to know why? It’s because I have almost (but not completely) forgotten about Sunday, May 8 2005, and that is testament to the gripping game of football I have just witnessed.
A noticeably different Latics side took to a soggy pitch for this heavy (if not quite heavyweight) encounter at a mizzly DW Stadium. The absence of hamstrung Gary Caldwell meant Emmerson Boyce would drop into the centre of defence, much as he did for the latter part of the last home game with West Brom. Ronnie Stam filled Boyce’s usual position on the right of midfield, while Jordi Gomez also made his (ultimately triumphant) return to the starting lineup, replacing Ben Watson.
Martinez would continue to alter things throughout the game, using all three substitutes before the 90 minutes were up. Each change would have a profound effect on the contest –and perhaps games to come–, but more on those later.
The sides exchanged opportunities during an exciting first stanza, but it was the visitors who headed to the dressing room with more to celebrate. Indeed, they had crafted more chances than their opponents, and may even have been slightly disappointed not to take a wider lead into the break. Ex-Latic Jason Roberts and Adam Le Fondre proved a potent combination which increased in effectiveness as the half progressed, and it could have yielded so much more for the Royals.
As it transpired, it was the Weetabix-powered Sean Morrison who stole the first half plaudits with a thumping, accurate header to convert Nicky Storey’s telling cross on 35 minutes. Much like against West Brom, it was a high cross set piece that led to Wigan’s downfall – extra house points to the visitors for going over and above the required homework quota on that count.
Wigan did fashion some superb openings of their own, but lacked the required clinical finishing to make them count. At times, Beausejour and Maloney were cutting through the Reading defensive line with alarming ease, but when it came to that accuracy of strike, Kone and Jones could not quite deliver. Gomez was also guilty of an errant shot, but since he created the chance all on his own, jinking past two defenders to create a wonderful shooting chance, we shall let him off. But he has to buy the drinks afterwards.
If the first half was engrossing, then the second was positively pulsating. A Latics season ticket has definitely been great value for money this campaign, and the next 45 minutes (well, 48) was probably the stand-out period of football at the Dee Dubya so far in 2012-13.
The introduction of Franco Di Santo was just the impetus Wigan needed to get back into the game. He was back to his creative, skilful best from the moment he set foot on the turf as Howard Webb got the half underway. Shaun Maloney was the unlucky withdrawal, but it wasn’t as if he was struggling or anything, so was this an injury or a tactical masterstroke?
The Argentine provided a pinpoint pass for the first Gomez goal on 57 minutes as Wigan’s pressure was finally made to count for something. An initially tentative strike was saved by Adam Federici, but the ball fell perfectly for Gomez to tap in at the second opportunity. As we would soon discover, this touch of fortune was exactly what he, and Wigan, needed.
Another large slice of luck fell in favour of Latics soon after. Maynor Figueroa lunged in on Jay Tabb for what looked like a certain penalty, but after much consideration, the officials decided there ‘wasn’t enough evidence’ (the words of one commentator) to award the spot-kick. I don’t claim to know much about football, but scraping your studs down someone’s leg usually results in a free kick. Unless the perpetrator is one Luis Suarez, of course.
The luck soon ‘evened itself out’ when Wigan had the ball in the net once again, but the linesman already had his flag in the air. The decision seemed marginal in real time, and replays eventually proved the assistant referee incorrect – oh, whoops. If Mr Di Santo, who converted Beausejour’s cross so emphatically at the back post, was cheesed off, it didn’t show.
The final 30 minutes of the game saw Ali Al Habsi go from hero to unwitting villain and hero once more. He first summoned the spirit of Gordon Banks (rather than Gordon Bennett) to deny Adam Le Fondre with an outstanding save on 61 minutes. From a starting position firmly planted on his own goal line, the Omani leapt to his right and palmed the ball, which was surely destined for the back of the South Stand net, away from danger. Spectacular stuff indeed.
As if things weren’t lively enough, the DW Stadium was about to get a whole lot bouncier.
Jean Beausejour had been showing no evidence of his recent struggles this afternoon, outrunning defenders and providing some dangerous balls into the box. You felt it was only a matter of time before one led to a goal, and on 67 minutes the seemingly inevitable happened. Jordi Gomez, brimming with confidence after his earlier goal, timed his run perfectly and complimented Beausejour’s latest cross with a spectacular diving header.
Wigan largely dominated the next ten minutes, but their progress was checked by the second (and thankfully final) incident in the Ali Al Habsi saga. It’s a bit too late for it to appear in this year’s Christmas bloopers DVDs, but remember to look out for it on the next seasonal ‘Own Goals and Gaffes’ compilation. Instead of describing it in all its gory detail, I shall draw on the Fair Dealings clause to bring you this (probably illegal) animated GIF:
There. Naught else needs to be said but, “oh dear”. We shall quickly move on.
It can’t be denied that the above incident winded the hosts, who were never quite the same afterwards. James McArthur, returning from his dead leg just in time to soften the rapidly deteriorating injury ‘mini-crisis’, replaced David Jones in the centre of midfield for the final eight minutes of regular time.
Latics endeavoured to work a late winner, but nothing was working – it seemed the Midas touch had been lost. Deep into stoppage time, however, came a magnificent opportunity in the form of a Latics counter attack.
The Royals won themselves an attacking throw-in not far from the South Stand corner flag, but the threat was neutralised with relative ease. More importantly, the ball was cleared for a breaking Wigan trio, who carried the ball over the half way mark, much to the dislike of a retreating Reading backline.
When Kone cut the ball across the area for Gomez, it seemed like fate that he would place the ball into Federici’s goal and secure Wigan Athletic’s first hat-trick for almost five years. 15,000 people simultaneously held their breath, and the glorious sound of ball hitting net was clearly audible as Gomez floated it past the Reading keeper.
92 minutes into this afternoon’s game, I would have placed it firmly in the ‘what could have been’ category. It was so very nearly one of those games you could, and perhaps should have won, but for one reason or another fate conspired against you. As it happens, it is with great delight that I induct it into the Hail Mary 3-2s Hall of Fame alongside Arsenal and of course West Ham.
Can we have a game at the DW every Saturday? Sadly I don’t think the FA would approve, but there is another home game this week – against Manchester City, no less. Fitness problems may well put paid to any sort of result there, but we can play with a confidence that only a win can give you. Hopefully Ivan Ramis, who was removed early in the second half due to injury concerns, can recover to keep a lid on any of the cornucopia of stellar forward men that may grace the pitch on Wednesday evening.
As for today, I’m going to need some time to let the emotion simmer down before I make any further comments. Right now, I can think of nothing else but those precious three points.