‘Tis the season to rejoice, for the false 9 as we know it is dead! Though Rotherham got the official killshot, it had been lumbering around like a listless zombie far longer than the director’s cut of Ben Hur on Movies 24/7 that ran from yesterday afternoon to the early hours of this morning, so let’s make a New Year’s resolution and not speak of it again. Mostly because I have a funny feeling it may return but it’s too frustrating to describe. Again.
Not that King Ben Watson and subjects would have had time to savour the cinematic delights of a Christmas Day TV schedule – in this age of the super footballer, it is common knowledge that players don’t get much of a break. But what about the coaching staff? Do they spend 20 minutes explaining the Christmas tree formation utilising salt and pepper pots to thoroughly disinterested family members around the dinner table?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Our Malky was working overtime to solve a problem like Wigan Athletic, pulling his cracker with one hand while fingering a detailed Champ Man-style ePad app with the other. When relegation looms, your formations and tactics become magnified tenfold and presented in the finest of water-based inks for people to spit half-chewed Boxing Day cornflakes at in disgust. Bank holidays do not exist in the world of football.
The Boxing Day Première
Cue a dramatic transitional sequence to denote the passage of time, with Mackay furrowing his brow while gnawing the end of a particularly well-chewed pencil. Fade to 3.10pm on Thursday afternoon, with a visibly worried Wigan Athletic manager loosening the collar of his shirt. His internal monologue loops constantly: have I got this right, and will it work?
It’s always good when someone else provides an answer for you. In the absence of a genuine goalscoring striker, Liam Cooper momentarily filled the role with an accomplished, controlled finish beyond Marco Silvestri. Well, ’tis the season for giving, and the former Hull City defender presented Latics with a juicy turkey breast as a token of his appreciation.
The remainder of the half typified those close contests in which Wigan have tasted the bitter Brussels sprouts of defeat this campaign. Billy Sharp’s 28th minute crossbar-bound header caused the goalframe to quake in its holster and a few men in banana suits to split their peels, while Marc-Antoine Fortune drew his customary save from the keeper some three minutes before the regulation 45. But the visitors’ solitary goal masked any minor (major?) apprehensions at leftover turkey sandwich time… oooh, the excitement of a half time lead!
Intermission – fetch the £40 worth of Quality Street
A visibly riled Leeds resolved to take the term ‘Boxing Day’ a might too literally for Latics’ liking, planting themselves firmly in Scott Carson’s heavily populated penalty box. Mirco Antenucci performed a near-perfect impression of Fortune by skewing a golden ring (hur hur) of an opportunity wide, a performance which sparked a series of precisely 25 consecutive corner kicks. Sadly, representatives from Guinness were not present to log it as an official world record as they wanted to get home in time for World’s Strongest Man on Channel 5 because they forgot to set the VCR.
The hosts quickly recovered from this setback, their nine attackers fighting through a crowd of ten Wigan defenders to manufacture some grimace-inducing efforts. Ramis blocked one and Carson saved another to preserve Latics’ lead heading into the afternoon’s feature film: The Final Ten, starring James ‘Arnie’ McClean.
And much like in those Hollywood blockbusters, it was the underdog that prevailed.
The Payoff (with callback)
The movie began with Silvestri scrambling to prevent sub Roger Espinoza converting a one-on-one, but our protagonist narrowly missed his mark. But just when you thought Wigan were saving the car chase for later, McClean completed a thoroughly satisfying move with a finish even more satisfying than your mum’s Xmas roasted potatoes, and the proverbial can was instantly filled.
As Leeds had expended all but a sliver of their energy, full time arrived quicker than a futuristic Jimmy Bond in his DB21 with turbonitrous injection. And to borrow a line from a Bond movie, ‘how on earth did that sheet remain clean?’
Sorry, that was a bit dubious. I have a few more questions that begin with an exasperated ‘how’ and ‘what’, but choose not to record them here today. Instead I shall heartily congratulate Mr Mackay on a first victory and advise him to stuff those three points down his stocking before anyone notices they’re missing.