As I munched my Friday lunch, it was with great disappointment I learned that Latics had already lost 4-2. But before I could pick up the phone for a refund on my ticket, I received a Twitter notification saying Gary Caldwell’s time machine had malfunctioned, and the game was on a Friday. Good job, as I had foolishly assumed both playoffs were ‘at the normal time’. But as all the cool kids know, 7.45pm Friday is indeed the new 3pm Saturday.
Marty McFly’s drunken prediction may seem ludicrous in hindsight, but remember that we *still* haven’t witnessed how QPR would react to a Wigan goal. In 270 minutes of competitive football this season, Latics have yet to breach that highly effective rugby league-style backline. Hey, perhaps in an alternative universe, Gary Caldwell steered his 4th minute header beyond Rob Green to open a particularly lively box of frogs… but I couldn’t get to the Large Hadron Collider in time to find out.
Since I don’t have the puncture kits to be cycling to central Europe on a Friday evening, we’ll have to persevere with with the poxy universe in which Wigan Athletic won the FA Cu- oh wait, never mind. Besides, it’s not as if I’m normally short on stuff to say about Motty’s proverbial no score bore draws. In which you draw straws for an ooh, ahh Beausejour.
Welcome to the Championship (playoffs)
But you can see why I’d claim an inter-dimensional do-over given the chance – that first half alone was a greater grindfest than a 2-hour skateboard session at Walmsley Park. A valid tactic might have been to ‘get Dunne sent off’, as one spectator so helpfully suggested once Callum McManaman had won the Irishman a place in Mike Jones’ notebook, but subsequent attempts to reunite the two proved fruitless.
Gary Caldwell was providing enough Championship flavour with a distinctly spicy off-the-ball ‘challenge’, never mind James McArthur’s constant attempts to pin the QPR midfield to the canvas. These bookings were by-products of the visitors’ renewed vigour, which also resulted in Armand Traore heading over the bar, the culmination of QPR’s most attractive move of the game.
But there simply was no time to settle into a plush DW sofa, for the relentless hosts were a Green’s glove from stealing the half time tea ‘n’ biscuits. Thankfully for the Rs (ooh arr?), Rob Green successfully avoided another N’Zogbia moment by expertly clawing Jordi Gomez’s piledriver just past the North Stand post. I wasn’t watching on TV, but I could just imagine the camera slowly panning towards the visiting contingent as they exhaled in unison. Looking back, it was a save more crucial than the dressing room Earl Grey and custard creams.
Traore was probably the man most invigorated by his lukewarm half time beverage, as he brought Scott Carson into play for only the second time. I am tempted to say it was a good save, but due to lack of replays I will plump for ‘not sure it was going in’. Could that have been QPR’s one shot on target, according to the BBC?
Before you could scream ‘get Waghorn on’, the onus was pressing upon Wigan like a Scouse winger’s nose on a White City wall. And they responded to a jam-packed East Stand’s extended rendition of Depeche Mode’s ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’ with a trio of half-attempts, the best of which saw Fortune’s snap shot score three extra points for Wigan RUFC. The *North* Stand loved that one.
With that effort, the game sank into a comfortable obscurity to satisfy visiting player and supporter alike. A sea of substitutions did nothing to steer the Good Ship QPR from its inevitable destination, even if the freshly-introduced Nicky Maynard fought his way from the half way line to the penalty area – he was to be mugged by a defender or two round the back of the corner flag, anyway.
The visitors enjoyed their best spell of possession as the game really did grind to fine grains of sand, but they remained steadfast in their gameplan to the very last – solid, controlling and respectful. Their job done, the psychological pendulum swings ever further toward central London, where this two legged semi final shall be concluded before dawn on Tuesday morning. But surely not before extra time, penalties and a best-of-2,000 coin toss – this is gunna be a close one.