At the 2013 PWU End of Season Dinner, I wasn’t the only one to claim that a playoff place would be a positive finish to the season. On that day it was decided that returning to the Premier League via an extremely ornate side door with heavy press presence would, on balance, be a greater accomplishment than your average FIFA Soccer XBOX achievement. Having witnessed at least 1,034 competitive Latics matches in the eight months since, I did not wish to revise that statement, but man, what I would have given for the odd goal advantage…
The actual figure to put in your reports is 62. That’s the number of competitive games Wigan have played this campaign since that pre-season knockabout at the Leigh Sports Village aaaall the way back in July 2013. We know this because Guinness World Record representatives were on hand to present Emmerson Boyce with a commemorative trophy prior to kick off. Or was that for competitive doughnut eating? It *was* suspiciously bagel-shaped, now I come to think of it.
Oh hoh, that Shortsman really is the gift that keeps on giving! Remnants of his bittersweet reign peppered the team sheet once more, perhaps most notably in the figure of Comeback King Carson. But within 10 minutes, the scoresheet would also bear the name of a certain other Coyle kid, namely that little-known Brazilian goal-machine Jameson Perchinho, as Wigan had defeated Rob Green for the first time in 280 minutes.
Enough Coyle praise for one season.
Beausejour waited and waited. And waited. But it was certainly worth it, because McClean’s subsequent cross was mature and full-bodied like a fine mulled wine, and Perch feasted as though he were at a Player of the Season award evening. Or maybe an FA Cup Quarter Final?
Rosler’s pre-match confidence seemed vindicated as a lively Latics reaped ample reward for their strong, pressing start. The Central London traffic that delayed his team’s arrival had no discernible negative effects, at least not in these early stages. Hey, why endure the Tube’s sardine experience when you have an FA Cup parade bus going spare?
But the home side were to finally step off their own team coach as the half hour mark approached. On Saturday I posed the question of how QPR might react to conceding against Wigan, and the answer was just as expected: they paid back Wigan’s endeavour double. The latter stages of the half were characterised by the hosts pressing Wigan’s nosehairs against the very same triple-reinforced brick wall they used to repel their opponent for those previous 280 minutes.
Grab the kitchen chairs!
That the aforementioned Scott Carson was only twice challenged before half time was testament to the visitors’ exceptional defence. Again calling on their considerable cup experience, the combined force of Niagara and Angel Falls were held back with nothing but an expertly-wielded kitchen chair.
Pretty soon, Wigan ball became rarer than a salad in a fast food joint as the home pressure was, like the rain, relentless. Relieving long passes were staple as the visitors clung to their slender advantage just as they did their FA Cup trophy.
But then, in the ocean of QPR pressure play, *the* flashpoint. The excellent James McClean, one-on-one with Rob Green, finds only the former England keeper’s legs, and subsequently the post.
Green’s save was doubly important in light of what would occur just four minutes later. As Hoilett challenged for the ball just inside the Latics area, Caldwell mistimed his challenge and Mark Clattenberg simply had to point spot-wards. And it was no surprise that Charlie Austin scored to completely alter the complexion of the final 17 minutes – never mind Perch, that man is the *true* definition of a goal machine.
Extra time… again
The visitors made an effective switch from all-out-defence to a-bit-more-attacking to see out regulation time with relative ease. But with all three enforced substitutions exhausted (that being the operative word), Wigan’s extra time would be an altogether different matter.
You see, an utterly dejected Caldwell had injured himself in his challenge on Hoilett. For his replacement and my Player of the Season nominee, one Leon Barnett, to adjust to the boiling cauldron of a playoff semi final was just a step too far. A predatory Charlie Austin caught him unawares to steal a strike that left Carson a passenger and give his side the lead faster than you could say ‘how the heck did Green save *that*?’ I know I still was, but then I have logorhooea.
Of the final 20 minutes, only 5 saw actual game time as the tie reverted to 7.45 on Friday night. QPR scrambled to re-erect that blasted barricade, and it was taller and wider than ever before. Ironically it was a defender, Rob Kiernan, that came closest to forcing penalties with fewer than 180 seconds on the clock, but his deflected strike sailed past the post. Ohoh, you ain’t scoring against *this* defence. Well, not again.
So yeah, I didn’t necessarily expect to be wrapping up the whole season in this last paragraph, so I won’t. Gimme a couple of days and I’ll be a bit more lucid after the mini-exodus… then roll on 2014/15!