I am not in a good mood today, folks. Those canny newsagents have cottoned on to my usual masterplan of buying up chocolate eggs when they’re reduced on Easter Monday. Much to my annoyance, it is the first time in living memory those swines have taken the stance of “it is still Easter, so why should they be half price?” Harrumph, looks like I’ll have to wait until Wigan Market replenish their supplies for my yearly fix of Bradbury’s Dream Eggs™.
No matter, for this ain’t no food blog, and football is less likely to endanger your teeth… unless you’re Mikel Arteta, who’s currently in a dentist’s chair after undergoing DIY molar reconstruction. You must indeed defeat Shane Long to stand a chance… of retaining your dentures.
I’m not suggesting football is a violent sport or anything, but I did rather feel like tossing my fluffy slipper in the general direction of the cat after today’s decidedly miserable first half. Oh, do I have to explain? I’d rather describe the medicinal half time fry-up which lifted my mood. Marginally. (It was passable, incidentally.)
You see, a rampant Burnley ensured the first half was heavier going than a 3,000 calorie home-cooked post-Lent feast. In two devastating spells, they left Latics as scrambled as Mum’s Easter eggs climbing a rocky cliff face. Though the visitors had the better of the ‘in-between’ part, the result was as disappointingly hollow as those hilariously-priced chocolate treats I could have been eating right now. Grumble.
Wigan began as legless as I am eggless, reduced to mere hoofitup ‘Hail Marys’ by their voracious opponents. Sure enough, Burnley’s appetite for goals was sated after 22 long minutes when Ashley Barnes issued a ball-bursting finish from eight short yards, Al Habsi reduced to the role of spectator as Dean Marney’s vicious cross was expertly converted in the flick of a toe. Glee for some, irritation for others.
It took the goal for Wigan to regain any sort of composure, and some improved midfield play led to a free kick that granted Jordi Gomez a chance to whip one of his trademark left-footers into the area. But though Marc-Antoine Fortune’s nod goalwards was ominous, only Tom Heaton’s framework would be disturbed. Well, Boyce’s subsequent skied shot might have troubled a few short-sighted spectators towards the back of the stand.
Egged on by a baying home crowd, Burnley resumed their fatal onslaught. James Perch conceded another free kick in dangerous territory, and this misdemeanour would not go unpunished by a delighted Michael Kightly. Stephen Crainey got a vital head to the ball as it screamed across the face of goal, but the on-loan Stoke wingman could claim Burnley’s second with a modicum of confidence. And relief – the Premier League now beckoned with one, nay two, inviting fingers.
Both teams underwent a restructure at the half time break. Latics injected midfield threat with the on-form Callum McManaman, but Burnley were able to counter by beefing up their backline. The plan proved flawless, as every run into the area was comfortably blocked by one of McManaman’s three or four burly bodyguards.
Emmerson Boyce experienced a similar problem when attempting to convert Jean Beausejour’s corners – it is far more difficult to guide your headers goalwards with an Arnold Schwarzenegger type invading your personal space.
Though the second half was undoubtedly better for Wigan, a goal to threaten the status quo was not forthcoming, and that away win was looking about as likely as Manchester United appointing Owen Coyle before the end of the week. Having said that, however, you might want to put five pence on it…
As the final ten minutes were leisurely for the hosts, it would seem the Road to the Prem really does get easier in the last few metres, a welcome change from the 26 miles of hell that precede it. Leicester and Burnley have now passed the little man with the stopwatch, but we’ll have to wait another month or so for the outcome of Wigan’s race.
The gap to seventh place stands at five points, so a win over Blackpool at the DW on Saturday could now secure a top six spot, while three points on Tuesday will almost certainly clinch it. Uh oh, best ready your tent and Calor gas heater for another all-day playoff ticket queue!