Ack, flipping typical, ain’t it? Yesterday’s games just go to show you simply can’t rely on anyone else to help you out in times of peril. I promised myself I wouldn’t worry about other teams’ matches, but sure enough, 3pm rolled around and I was glued to my wireless. The relegation battle really is like a sadistic soap opera, isn’t it?
Fast forward to Sunday lunchtime. Though the previous day’s unfavourable results significantly increased the importance of today’s showdown at the DW Corral, Wigan’s task remained much the same – win, or face the daunting prospect of another uphill struggle through April and May. It simply did not bear thinking about.
There was, however, reason for cheer. Newcastle, though visibly buzzing after their last-gasp European success, were undeniably weakened by the absence of the influential Yohan Cabaye. Though it is a wonderful achievement to still be competing this far into the Europa Cup, there are bound to be repercussions of playing two games in the space of three days.
Look, I’m reaching for positives when they weren’t necessarily needed. Last week’s thumping victory over Everton, combined with the rapidly tightening relegation scrap, is impetus enough for a rousing Sunday teatime performance. Speaking of which, yet more television time for the summer sales! Hey, you’re all aware of Wigan’s position as a selling club, surely?
Somewhat surprisingly, Martinez fielded precisely the same first XI that did the job so comfortably last week, and it seemed to work. After a brief lull in the opening exchanges, Latics set about dominating their opponents throughout most of a pleasing first half.
Debutant Callum McManaman was an early hazard for Newcastle, who had a couple of issues dealing with the right-wingman. He would prove a different kind of threat a little later on, but for now he was jinking past defenders into the United area with the same gusto that has brought him so much cup success.
Macca was instrumental in the hosts’ first goal, sending in a superb cross which Jean Beausejour gratefully gobbled up at the back post. A wonderful start to proceedings, and it could have been even better for Latics.
James McCarthy had the home side’s other great chance of the half on 42 minutes. Picking up possession just inside the Newcastle half, he stole in behind Jonas Gutierrez and sprinted his way into shooting position, only to be denied by an impressive saving tackle by the defender. The travelling Newcastle fans let out an audible sigh of relief.
United were far from mere spectators in the first half. Steven Taylor tested Joel early on, and his side could have had an equaliser deep into stoppage time through Papiss Cisse, whose strike went flying high into the South Stand.
But the half’s main talking point was a strong challenge on Massadio Haidara by the otherwise outstanding McManaman. I am informed it was quite bad, but without the aid of a replay, all I have to go on is my (average) view from the opposite stand.
At the time, I had flashbacks to the challenge that ended Ryo Miyaichi’s season just last week – a decent enough tackle, just a tad reckless. Of course, the referee’s decision shaped my initial opinion. Had he produced an immediate card, then I’m sure I, and indeed everyone present, would have accepted it and moved on.
Sadly, after several minutes of treatment, Haidara had to be stretchered off. Combined with the earlier injury to Mathieu Debuchy, this wasn’t necessarily the best of halves for poor Newcastle.
Emotions bubbled over as the teams retreated to the tunnel, resulting in Newcastle assistant John Carver being sent to the stands for attempting to initiate a shoving match with McManaman. Presumably this card was shown inside the tunnel, because I watched Mark Halsey closely and he stood stationary with his arms by his side. As for Macca, he did well not to inflame the situation, eventually strolling calmly down the tunnel. Well, kind of.
All this seemingly unprovoked drama (remember, my view of the tackle was obscured) elevated the match’s intensity to a new level. McManaman, roundly booed by the Newcastle faithful each time he picked up the ball, was wisely removed ten minutes into the half. An end to the saga, possibly?
On with the match, I guess
Anyway, there was a game to settle here. The contest sparked into life with approximately 25 minutes to go, and Newcastle looked to pepper the Wigan penalty area with crosses. This did leave them open at the back, and Latics were also fashioning some excellent (the better?) opportunities – Maynor Figueroa headed over, while sub James McArthur saw his shot blocked.
It was the visitors that struck next, however. Davide Santon provided the exquisite finish via Papiss Cisse, and Joel Robles had conceded his first Premier League goal. Of course, it would be unfair to blame him too much as the shot was so accurate.
With both sides pushing for victory, 22,000 spectators were in for a frantic final 20 minutes or so. A win would mean so much more to Wigan, who lifted their game to manufacture a few more chances before the game was out.
Newcastle weren’t giving up hopes of all three points, but almost all their attempts ended in either Cisse being flagged offside or Scharner and Alcaraz taking command to clear. Shortly, Shaun Maloney produced a half-decent free kick to force Rob Elliot into a save, but Latics would need to find that little bit extra to beat him.
Just when time seemed to be ebbing away, a crucial opportunity for the hosts. In seriousness, it was all a bit of a blur as the ball rebounded off one man then another in slow motion – a voice from the stands bellowed ‘put yer foot through it!’ The next moment, jubilation. The ball came to rest in the Newcastle net, seemingly willed over the line by an army of screeching Wiganers. According to the stadium announcer, Arouna Kone got the final touch.
After a nervy period of stoppage time which seemed to last 40 minutes, the magnificent sound of the final whistle. Latics had scraped over the line for a monumentally significant three points to help keep them afloat in the survival race. Thank goodness for that.
Was there a handball in the build-up to Wigan’s second goal? Quite frankly, I don’t care. Were the home side on top form? Not really, but again it doesn’t matter. So many times Wigan have been good value for a scrappy home win, but through poor luck or lack of a finish, ended up skulking back to the dressing room.
It’s been hard, sometimes violent work, but that sought-after third home win is in the bag. Now go and have a lie down, because you deserve it. I’ll take a throat tablet and scream some more on Thursday’s podcast.
Kickboxing image courtesy Krystof Gauthier (CC3.0)