Phew, it’s getting a bit tight now, isn’t it? As phenomenally demoralising as last weekend might have been, Latics once again had the chance to pull themselves clear of that media mosh pit that is the relegation zone. It sounds a bit weird, but just like last week, Aston Villa play on Monday so three points would have been enough to climb that crucial place to safety, at least for the remainder of the weekend. See, it’s like GCSE revision – if you look at things week-by-week, the task becomes just a bit easier.
Of course, lose and you’re sweating on the Villa result once again. I simply couldn’t rest easy from 5pm Saturday to 10pm Monday knowing that Latics might be six points away from 17th place by the time Tuesday rolls around, a considerable (but by no means completely insurmountable) gap to close with so few games remaining.
Oh go on then, I’ll dig out my favourite quote for you all to admire again:
“You are always one defeat away from a crisis. On that basis, we’re in deep doodoo.” — Villa manager John Gregory, 1999
Hahaaa! I shall never tire of that.
But as long as you keep the gap to three points there is still a chance, what with that increasingly apt final day Villa-Wigan showdown. My goodness, would I settle for a winner-takes-all situation now…
Wait a minute, let me get my wits back together before I write anything – the game I just witnessed was so pulsating I can hardly put fat, stumpy finger to keyboard. Okay, I think I’m ready now.
Tottenham were given a goal head start in the first ten minutes as Joel Robles failed to clear Maynor Figueroa’s (admittedly tight) backpass past Gareth Bale’s boot. In the blink of an eye, the ball lay in the back of the South Stand net – did I really just witness that? No, it cannot be so… but after rubbing my eyes it dawned upon me that Wigan had gifted their opponents the softest of easy goals. Not good.
In the true spirit of Latics relegation battles, however, the hosts had a speedy response in store. Callum McManaman danced past two men and reached the right hand by-line before winning a corner for his team, rousing the home faithful in the process. Shaun Maloney delivered an outstanding ball to the back post, where Boyce had timed his jump so well he simply could not miss with his header. And he certainly did not. Joel Robles breathed a huge sigh of relief as parity was restored in the best possible fashion.
The teams shared possession for the next 20 minutes or so, but Wigan’s slightly rejigged backline, consisting of Figueroa, Scharner and Boyce, was faring quite well. The trio were about to be separated, however, when the Honduran picked up a knock while executing a superb last-ditch challenge to deny the visitors a shooting opportunity. Figs got up gingerly, but could not continue for more than a few minutes longer as the stretcher-bearers carried him down the tunnel. Do we have any more defenders left?
Captain Boyce switched to a more central defensive position as Ronnie Stam gratefully filled the right wing void. Spurs were on the rise, but with the break imminent, time was not in their favour. Joel Robles came to punch clear a corner, and Martin Atkinson signalled for half time. 1-1? Phew, I shall take that.
Wigan started the second period with great gusto. Callum McManaman had been starved of possession since his 11th-minute wonder run, but was about to make his latest chance count in style. Receiving the ball from McCarthy, the Englishman took a couple of touches before firing a truly unstoppable strike past an utterly helpless Hugo Lloris. What better way to grab your first Premier League goal and give your side a highly useful lead?
After a short period of Wigan dominance, Tottenham settled down into their expected pressing play. But they struggled to find a way through, even with Latics sitting further and further back as the contest wore on. Franco Di Santo replaced a jubilant McManaman and brought a renewed hunger to the forward line, winning pretty much every long ball played up to him during this period.
For the time being Wigan were holding firm and playing the perfect away strategy. Wait, what? Yes indeed, the hosts were orchestrating an effective breakaway game that so nearly resulted in a goal on more than the odd occasion. The otherwise outstanding Arouna Kone probably had the best of these opportunities on 75 minutes, but could not find the finish to all but kill the game off.
As it stood, however, the match was set for a thrilling climax. Latics were naturally wasting time at every given opportunity, and managed to make it to the 89th minute of the game before conceding a free kick just outside their own area. Oh Jean, why did you have to wrestle the bloke to the floor? I wouldn’t have bothered so much, but Huddlestone’s dangerous ball found its way past Robles via an unnamed part of Emmerson Boyce’s anatomy. Latics were just 5 minutes from a huge three points, but had it cruelly snatched away from them.
There was still plenty of time for a winner either way, however. The home side increasingly committed every man forward in the search for a winner, which led to some very nervy moments at the back. Bale was inches away from converting a great cross at the back post, and there was yet more Wigan penalty box action to come.
Desperately tracking back, the home side had to settle for conceding a free kick in perfect Bale territory. It would be the final move of the game, and I envisioned the ball flying into the top corner of the net to pinch all the points. Luckily, Robles had other ideas and saved fantastically, his team-mates completing a slightly fortunate last-gasp clearance to preserve that point.
Points dropped or gained?
Although Wigan had almost done enough to warrant a critical three points in the initial 89 minutes, that final-minute scramble leaves me more than happy with a draw. Of course a win would have been great, but would you have settled for this result at 2:59pm? By the way, you don’t have to answer that as it’s a rhetorical question.
As I mentioned on the podcast this week, a draw is not such a bad result so long as Villa do not win on Monday. Come on Sunderland, do us a favour! Gah, I can’t be doing with all this ‘wait until Monday’ nonsense…
Ack, over 1,000 words already. I could pen a flipping novel about this season, if I knew how to write. I shall leave you with this motto for the next few weeks: just keep hangin’ on.