As Latics were cruelly consigned to the Premier League’s less wealthy ‘concrete car park training league’, there were concerns that it would be boring. “The football, and referees, are awful,” they said. While the latter is undoubtedly true (ooh, controversial? Nope), the former can be classed as utter nonsense – we have witnessed half a season of exhilarating FA Cup-style league matches. Give or take the odd goalless draw, but everyone’s forgotten about them already, as tends to happen.
But where does that leave the actual cup games? Crikey, by those standards you’d compare them to NBA Jam‘s 200% hyperspeed Juice Mode. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, remind yourself of this website’s name – ‘References Obscurus’. Wait a minute, which site am I writing for again?
In case you’re wondering, it’s a video game from long, long ago. And I am henceforth removing anyone who likens the Championship to a Soccerdome kickabout from my greetings card list.
You want delightful goals and well-worked attacking moves? You got ’em. You want penalty saves and pantomime crowd participation? We got them too. You want exciting half time entertainment? Well invest in an iPad with Angry Birds or something. (Two video game references – what is this?!)
Not that Junior Latics’ Soccer AM-inspired ‘kick balls into holes’ game wasn’t captivating in itself, but when you have a six-goal cup tie, such things are inescapably relegated to sideshow status. In fact I am unsure whether I will be able to fit the usual detailed analysis (hah) of all this into a 750-word post, especially considering I just wasted five paragraphs proving my geek credentials, so le’sgo!
Gomez: The New Espinoza?
Latics began brighter than Ali Al-Habsi’s flourescent pink boots, partially inspired by a Roger Espinoza picture book special. One of those strikes you set in motion before stepping back to admire the ball sailing into the far corner, it was so perfectly placed you just knew this would be the opening goal from the very moment boot met leather. Or synthetic material met carbon fibre, or whatever they make football-related items out of these days. Probably nylon.
Meanwhile, Team MK were testing the ball boys occupying the otherwise vacant South Stand with an England fast bowler’s Hawkeye pitch map of misplaced and miscued efforts. A photograph of any of these would be useless for a Spot the Ball competition as it was mostly to be found behind the retractable seats.
Wigan’s pressing game was proving difficult for the visitors to cope with, and it would soon lead to a second breaching of David Martin’s precious goal line. Jordi Gomez completed the move started approximately 40 seconds ago by James McArthur, somehow wrongfooting the ‘keeper at his near side for a comfortable, gift-wrapped second. Oh crumbs, Gomez receiving praise from the stands? Unthinkable.
So far, so predictable.
But the game’s next significant momentum shift saw Milton Keynes draw level in the time it takes to purchase a pre-half time pie. I bet you wish you ate beforehand now, eh?
There was a certain similarity to the Dons’ first two goals, which coincidentally encompassed their first two shots on target – indeed, both were credited to Ben Reeves. Wigan’s penalty area was now as easy to penetrate as… a squash carton straw hole. Yes, we’re going with that metaphor. Hah, think I got away with it…
That third and potentially killer goal was soon within the visitors’ grasp, James McClean caught happy slapping George Baldock in front of 6,000 people scrabbling for their YouTube-ready mobile video cameras. Regardless of his excellent control and through balls that caused even Jordi Gomez to raise an eyebrow, these perceived amateur dramatics would not go unpunished by embittered opposition fans, who grumbled audibly each time the Tangoed supersub scythed through the Latics left back area with alarming ease.
They had no reason to bear a grudge, however, seeing as Al-Habsi repelled the subsequent spot-kick with heart-warming proficiency. Furthermore, this moment of Paul Daniels magic would inspire Wigan’s eminently satisfying third, converted with gleeful efficiency by a delighted Callum McManaman. The superb Espinoza must also take some credit for his pitch-perfect, impeccably timed assist that evoked fond memories of Goodison Park.
Slightly cheesed off, the spotlight-hungry visitors would gain sweet revenge by booking themselves some potentially lucrative overtime back at Stadium MK, capitalising on yet more defensive hesitancy. The beneficiary? A departing Patrick Bamford, who will now most likely return to his parent club in expensive Mars Bar land, otherwise know as London. Yep, I measure standard of living by the price of confectionery. Bite me. Or the chocolate bar, whatever.