Poor Jordi Gomez. Never before has a Wigan Athletic player been so devastating in a half of football and received such negative attention. Relatively few have achieved the oh-so-rare feat that is a Latics hat-trick, but that is besides the point – can Mr Gomez do anything right? In the eyes of many, the answer remains a resounding ‘no’.
It is telling that Martinez saw fit to mention Gomez’s detractors in his post-match media engagements, and I could not help but cringe in sheer embarrassment as Bob gave them a stern scolding akin to those dished out at any local comprehensive you could care to mention. It would have been just about acceptable had he been addressing scorn from opposition fans, but these were our own ‘supporters’ –and note the use of scare quotes.
It was pleasing, then, to see Gomez given a warm reception when his name was announced over the stadium PR yesterday evening. Did it have any effect on his game? Well, it’s hard to tell- let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a vintage performance, certainly nowhere near the dizzying highs of Saturday. But hey, you can’t get three goals every time you set foot on the Premier League’s pastures green.
This isn’t Pro Evolution Soccer on the easy mode, you know. Oh no, there is a distinct lack of effective pokes (ooh, showing me age there) for real life, much to the dismay of many a Wigan fan. Without the Konami Code, a distinctly second string back three of Adrian Lopez, Emmerson Boyce and Maynor Figueroa would surely do well to limit the goalscoring exploits of this veritable Harlem Globetrotters lineup.
For the first 45 minutes, said pieced-together backline did a pretty good job of limiting City to the odd misdirected strike into the side-netting. In fact, it was the hosts who ended the half with the greater number of efforts on goal – something of a surprise given the visitors’ time on the ball.
Wigan, lively in the opposition third, threatened on the counter on a number of occasions. Arouna Kone worked an opportunity as early as the third minute of the game, but could not manoeuvre a powerful strike around Joe Hart, who did just about enough to prevent the ball from squeezing past him.
City attempted to take control of the game, but were frustrated by a mixture of good defending and their own lacklustre forward play. Al Habsi was commanding at corners, pouching one and fisting another clear with authority, and at this point it looked as though he had fully exorcised the spectre of Saturday.
Wigan began to sense an upset when confidence built to a crescendo just before the half-time mark. Deep inside the penalty area, Jordi Gomez turned gracefully past two defenders to open up a wonderful shooting opportunity. Surely after the goals he scored at the weekend, it would be a piece of cake to simply slot the ball into the corner of Joe Hart’s goal. But within the blink of an eye, he lay prostrate on the turf – did he jump, or was he pushed? A neutral perspective (pah) says it was difficult to tell from where I was sat, but you can bet your life I was 100% sure an infringement had occurred at the time.
City looked to seize the initiative as the second half got underway, and their efforts so very nearly paid off on 52 minutes. Thankfully for the hosts, Mario Balotelli’s close-range header went sailing past Al Habsi’s right hand upright when it looked, for all the trophies in Mancini’s cabinet, that the visitors would go one ahead.
Arouna Kone had a superb headed chance of his own less than three minutes later, but also failed to steer the ball the correct side of the post. But fortunes, you felt, were beginning to shift in Wigan’s favour, and didn’t the crowd know it.
The visitors were soon forced into a second (tactical?) substitution, but is it that much of a problem for a team with as much strength in depth as Man City? Heck no. In fact, the fresh blood was just what they needed.
Remember my earlier allusion to Al Habsi’s horror moment on Saturday? Well, I couldn’t prevent the flashbacks when Mario Balotelli tapped home on 69 minutes. Was it the Omani’s fault that he could not take Gareth Barry’s initial strike cleanly? I am not about to apportion blame, but one felt it was well within Wigan’s ability to clear the danger long before Mr Whyalwaysme completed the easiest of finishes. Whatever the case, Wigan were now chasing the game. Sigh.
The home side’s task was made doubly difficult just two minutes later when supersub James Milner was afforded more space around the edge of the area than a large bloke with a deodorant phobia. I know, that was a disgusting analogy so forget I even made it. But the former Villa man still had to do what many had failed to before him, namely hit the target from distance. And that he did, emphatically. Al Habsi had absolutely no chance.
City could simply play out what time remained, and slowed the game just as their opponents had done in the first half. Latics could not retain the ball, or perhaps they did not want to? By this point, the tank was running low and the pits were nowhere in sight. The front wing was irreparably damaged and their race was all but over. And this is another rubbish analogy, so skip to the end of this paragraph.
Next, we witnessed the obligatory attempts at a consolation, followed by City running rampant with the ball in Wigan’s half. These mere formalities might have affected the scorecard more than they did, but 2-0 away from home is more than enough for most teams. Even a side as stellar as City would be well pleased with their evening’s efforts. It wasn’t as comprehensive as they would have liked, but nothing ever is these days.
Mixed feelings, then. I was far more philosophical as I braved the crush on the iron bridge: “hey, they are the champions, and we put up a great fight”. But if you think like that, you’re never going to be truly great. I’m sure Martinez will be quick to remind his team that yes, they had enough to beat City, and there are plenty of good points to take into Monday’s encounter with Newcastle.
In an alternate universe, Arouna Kone would have converted one of his three excellent opportunities and put Wigan 1-0 up going into the break. In yet another (admittedly far-away) universe, Jordi Gomez might have completed his second hat-trick in as many games and finally won over the nay-sayers. Well, possibly.
Unfortunately, the multiverse theory is likely science fiction and we remain firmly rooted in this universe. Until someone invents a machine to traverse these theoretic worlds, we probably won’t be troubling the top three slots for a while yet. But remember this post’s title, so very subtly pilfered from that there filmic masterwork: there is no fate but what we make for ourselves. With a bit more pre-match target practice, we may make a goalscoring cybersoldier of Mr Kone yet.
Arnold image by Alberto on Flickr (CC2.0)